Antisemitism in classical literature: Where do we draw the line?

While antisemitism always has the same goal which is the demonization, ostracization and complete destruction of the Jewish people, it can be found in various fields. It can be historical, theological, ethnic or academic to name a few variants. It has also been found in literature over the centuries.  Different types of writings can be considered antisemitic, from sermons to pamphlets to complete volumes.

Works like "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" published in 1905 by Russian writer and mystic Sergei Nilus, possibly from earlier works found in a French play, are openly antisemitic. The Protocols depict a global Jewish conspiracy as recorded in the minutes of a group of influential Jewish leaders. They have been debunked as a hoax as early as 1920, and yet, it didn't stop many from propagating them, including Henri Ford reprinting portions of them in his newspaper "The Dearborn Independent." Even though they have been rejected as a hoax, they continue to be published today and can even be found on Amazon. Depending on your search, they can either appear as a hoax or more vaguely appear as "non-supported" piece of work by Amazon, which is a very strange description. The book is hugely antisemitic and it is not worth spending the money to purchase it or the time to read it. There is nothing classical about The Protocols, and it shouldn't be in print.

Let us consider another piece of antisemitic literature like Hitler's "Mein Kampf." The book was first published in two volumes as Hitler's autobiography written in prison between 1925 and 1926. As virulently antisemitic as it is, Mein Kampf (My Fight,) has become part of history and can be used as such to study the person of Hitler and that period of Nazi Germany with more details. I wouldn't say that it is a recommended read, but it cannot be ignored. It contains large portions that are antisemitic and became the guide for "the final solution to the Jewish question," but it also contains a historical narrative that shouldn't be thrown away because of its evil author. While the Protocols's only goal was to demonize the Jewish people, Mein Kampf is a bit broader in its theme. There is nothing classical about Mein Kampf, but I believe it should be in print to study that part of history. Because of Hitler's reputation that precedes him, his autobiographical work doesn't need much of a warning introduction by the publisher.

Then you have literary works from famous authors like Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1894-1961), a novelist who introduced a new style of writing in French literature. His approach used a more spoken style akin to the working class way of communicating, often even a bit raw. He modernized French literature and influenced many, even beyond France. Unfortunately, he also published three very antisemitic essays. Bagatelles pour un massacre (Trifles for a Massacre) (1937), L'École des cadavres (The School of Corpses) (1938) and Les Beaux draps (The Fine Mess) (1941.) 

The French publishing giant Gallimard has been considering re-publishing these works that have been out of print for quite a few years. They are receiving a lot of criticism, especially from members of the Jewish community such as  Holocaust activist Serge Klarsfeld. The consensus is that these virulent essays should not be reprinted. WARNING: Celine's language in Trifles for a Massacre might offend the reader as it is often very raw and extremely insulting, "That fine literary standardization, most degrading and most astounding, will, once accomplished, be the finishing touch of that labor of desensitization and artistic leveling, which the Jews have already accomplished in painting, music and cinema. Thus the cycle of the international robotization of thought will be complete. The Jewish serpent, as the oracles have said, will eventually wind himself around the entire world, smashing, gumming-up, perverting, and mercilessly exploiting everything in his wake, in that well-known demagogic, pacifistic, progressive-educational, liberationist, Freemasonic, Soviet, and Salvationist sauce. The only thing that the Jew dreads in this world is authentic emotion, spontaneous, rhythmic, and in its natural element. ... The snake fully realizes that the mongoose doesn't joke, and that it will strangle the snake, with one solid blow... Authenticity is the only set of scales, by which to weigh the Jew against the masses of his garbage and fraud. To pillage, to steal, to pervert, to pollute, to bleed everything that he encounters, be it modesty, music, rhythm, or value, that is the gift of the Jew, that is his ancient reason for being."

Gallimard has not decided yet if they will publish a new edition of Céline's antisemitic essays. It might have something to do with the pressure they have received from various groups within France, all the way up to some members of the government. Most people would rather see the essays never reprinted because of their abrasive, raw hatred against the Jews. In most cases, I would tend to agree, like in the case of The Protocols. In this case though, I believe that Céline's essays MUST BE REPRINTED. They are part of his entire work and as much as some people are trying to separate the man from his work, you cannot! If they are not reprinted, they will still be available on the internet and even in print from some more obscure publishers (as I have been able to acquire Trifles for a Massacre very recently, even though it is "out of print").

What Gallimard must do though, is to reprint the works with a thorough introduction/preface to the new edition or commentary about the work and why it is reprinted. Without any added commentary, the reprinting could be seen as an endorsement by many, and rightfully so. The preface or commentary will allow the work to be presented within its proper context and should not give Mr. Céline any posthumous grace for his virulent writings, as none is due!

Should Amazon Redefine our Freedom of the Press?

If a book has ever been published and is still in print, chances are you can find it on Amazon. There are millions of volumes available from the online giant in a myriad of languages. In perusing Amazon's vast catalog, one is bound to run into books that they would disagree with, some that would rub them the wrong way and even some that are simply pushing the envelope too far. But this is what Freedom of the Press in America is all about. If you believe it, you can write about it, and if you write about it, you can publish and promote it. I value this freedom very much since I have written several books in the last two decades.

But exactly how far can we exercise our freedom to publish? The First Amendment of the US Constitution tells us: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." This is of great value in America, considering that many countries are much more restrictive if not completely totalitarian in their approach to people's freedom. This freedom is expressed through many writing styles.

One of them, satirical writing, can be traced back to ancient Egypt and has been used and perfected over the centuries. It includes humor, irony and sarcasm to tell a story and this is exactly what Assaf A. Voll used in the publishing of his recent book titled " A History of the Palestinian People from Ancient Times to the Modern Era." The book is over 120 pages and all of them are blank. His tongue-in-cheek approach to the hot topic of Palestinian history quickly garnered him a top seller position on Amazon (#2 in the "Israel and Palestine" category.) Enough people thought that it was funny and left reviews on Amazon to catapult the book to #2. But apparently, many also were offended by the book's approach to Palestinian history. His message was clear, when it comes to factual history, Palestinians have none prior the mid 1960s. One might agree or disagree with that message, yet freedom of the press guarantees that Mr. Voll's book will be published and distributed, even on least for a few days!

Within a few days and under pressure, Amazon deleted the book from their catalogue claiming that the book "has been retired and is no longer for sale.The book cannot be found either on Apple Ibooks or Barnes and Nobles site. Going back to Amazon's decision to pull the book, one would tend to believe that the company has certain publishing standards that led to the cancellation, and that, in and of itself should be respected, if it is ethical and if the same standards apply for all books. But here is the rub...they don't!

If you go to Amazon and look for a book like "The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" you can purchase a copy from several suppliers. The book is supposed to comprise the minutes of several meetings held by important Jewish people regarding how they planned to take over the world. It was proven to be a hoax first published by Russian man Sergei Nilus in 1905, and since reprinted and distributed by many including Henry Ford. It has become a pillar in the edifice built on antisemitic literature and is still globally disseminated today. One Amazon page for the Protocols has a main review of the book saying" The entire world witnessed horrors that were unquestionably a direct result of the heinous prescriptions laid out earlier in the Protocols. To this day, almost a century later, the sweep of history has proven the Protocols to be genuine, authentic, and a real-life rendering of the most tragic events that have bedeviled mankind. One nation after another has suffered, and now the Zionist psychopaths have targeted the United States and Western Europe. The Protocols continue to ring true and sound the alarm. "

Is this an abuse of our freedom of the press? Is this worse than a book with blank pages? I will let you be the judge.

On a very different topic, and regarding a real piece of literature, you can also purchase a copy of Martin Luther's 1543 work "On the Jews and their Lies" on Amazon. This small booklet was written by Martin Luther at the end of his life and was very abrasive against the Jews towards whom he had been rather friendly early on. In the book, Luther advises to burn synagogues, raze homes, confiscate holy books and forbid free passage among other things. He ends his treatise with powerful words against the Jews "My essay, I hope, will furnish a Christian (who in any case has no desire to become a Jew) with enough material not only to defend himself against the blind, venomous Jews, but also to become the foe of the Jews' malice, lying, and cursing, and to understand not only that their belief is false but that they are surely possessed by all devils. May Christ, our dear Lord, convert them mercifully and preserve us steadfastly and immovably in the knowledge of him, which is eternal life. Amen.

This real book is still in print as part of Luther's complete work. It brings chills down my spine when I read Amazon's reviews of such work saying "On the Jews and Their Lies Luther’s magnificent defense of Jesus the Messiah and his exposé of the unfounded lies and accusations of the rabbis." But freedom of the press is such that, as vitriolic as it might be, "On the Jews and their Lies" must be allowed in the Amazon catalogue. I don't like it, but it is an undeniable part of history.

The point here is that Amazon seems to be using double standards when it comes to anything promoting Israel and the Jewish people or denigrating the Palestinian narrative, and it is a shame. Freedom of the Press has to either be all in or all out. We cannot allow it to be adjusted according to different agendas or flexing under pressure from different groups. Again, Israel is being singled out and targeted socially, culturally, politically and academically. I really hoped that Amazon wouldn't be swayed by our postmodern view of Israel and the Jewish people. But it certainly looks like they are re-defining Freedom of the Press, at least for their catalogue. Maybe if more people who cared about the truth and an unbiased approach to information said something, then Amazon would listen. How will they know we care if we don't speak up?

They have said, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation,
That the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
For they have conspired together with one mind;
Against You they make a covenant:
Psalm 83:4-5