The satirical writer, Shalom Auslander, has written a witty and infuriating essay in Tablet, which compares the writing process to potty training and also snipes venomously at the Jewish obsession with the Holocaust and antisemitism. He’s largely right, many if not most of us–certainly those of a certain age–are obsessed with the dangers of Jew hatred. Still, we might recall the old maxim that even paranoids have enemies.
I was greeted on the morning of my birthday no less (May 7) with an email from Amazon.com recommending three books, two of which are notorious antisemitic tracts: “The International Jew: The World’s Most Foremost Problem” by Henry Ford and “The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion.” Why? Because Amazon accurately reminds me that I had purchased the 25th anniversary paperback edition of “The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine” by Edwin Black.
This was a legitimate study of an actual agreement between the mainstream Zionist movement and the Nazi regime which allowed tens of thousands of German Jews to flee to Palestine in the 1930s. Black is neither anti-Zionist nor antisemitic. But anti-Zionists hyperventilate on this difficult decision by Zionist authorities to ransom Jewish lives and thereby undermine an international boycott against the Nazi economy; anti-Zionists see this as a smoking gun on the evils of Zionism. Not all, but many anti-Zionists also hate Jews. Based on its online algorithms, Amazon knows that my interest in this book correlates with what interests such haters.
I don’t necessarily disagree with Amazon‘s practice of selling antisemitic material, but I wonder if it should be marketed in the same way as most anything else, or without a warning as to its toxicity, as Amazon does for “The Protocols….” (Amazon sites that peddle such antisemitic literature include the publishers’ promotional messages, rave reviews by enthusiastic readers and cross references to other such noxious works.) Still, I understand the risk of a slippery slope: where do you draw the line in labeling some books as toxic and others as fair expression?
Nevertheless, we owe it to ourselves in the Jewish and liberal communities to monitor Amazon‘s voluminous sites and nudge the company to do the right thing by applying appropriate advisories. Notwithstanding the brilliant and cantankerous Mr. Auslander, antisemitism remains a problem, and it’s a conundrum as to how best to deal with it.
A longer discussion of this matter (minus references to Auslander) is currently online as an opinion piece at the NY Jewish Week’s website.