The first time I met the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Eustace Mullins was at a conference I was covering of Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis and paranoiacs (a redundancy, I suppose).
Mullins was then in his 70s, and his general affect was that of an irate eccentric who stands outside government offices, screaming about the Rothschilds. (He actually accused me of being a part of the Rothschild “gang.” From your mouth to God’s ears, I said.) He seemed, in short, to be a self- marginalizing sort of fascist.
Mullins, who died in 2010, was a protege of Ezra Pound, who helped him refine his hatred of Jews during their conversations together at St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital in Washington, where Pound found himself confined after his World War II exertions on behalf of Hitler. Mullins also did investigative work for Senator Joseph McCarthy, and, when we met, he wanted to speak more about his campaign to vindicate McCarthy than he did about his work on the “Jewish question.”
But the Jewish question was what animated Mullins most, and longest. He argued that the Jews were a parasite eating at civilization, that the existence of Jews was a crime against nature and that Jews drank the blood of “innocent gentile children” in their secret rituals. Mullins also spun elaborate theories about collusion between Zionists and Nazis. Hitler, he argued, “allied with the Zionist Party, and the mission of the Nazis was to force the anti-Zionist Jews to accept Zionism, and this is what the concentration camps were about.” He argued that the “zi” in Nazi stood for Zionism.
This last theory of his was largely forgotten until last week, when Greta Berlin, a co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement, published a message on the group’s Twitter feed: “Zionists operated the concentration camps and helped murder millions of innocent Jews.” It contained a link to a video of Mullins delivering his message.
The Free Gaza group, the leading edge of the international campaign to delegitimize Israel and bring about its end as the national home of the Jewish people, has always argued that it isn’t anti-Semitic, and is merely trying to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. The group came to public attention in May 2010, when it organized a flotilla of ships to attempt to break the blockade. Israeli commandos boarded the ships and were set upon by passengers wielding pipes and knives. In a terrible overreaction, they responded by opening fire, killing nine. The incident has nearly destroyed Turkish-Israeli relations, and helped make the flotilla cause popular across the Middle East and Europe.
Free Gaza is a hypocritical organization, of course. Egypt shares a border with the Gaza Strip, and is tightening its own blockade, but Free Gaza activists seem uninterested. They are also uninterested in the sins of Hamas, the terrorist organization that rules Gaza. The Israeli blockade was a response, in large part, to the unfortunate (and ongoing) Hamas practice of firing rockets into Israeli villages. But put aside Hamas’s crimes against Israelis; the Free Gaza website also makes no mention of a recent report from Human Rights Watch that found that Gaza’s Hamas-run criminal-justice system “reeks of injustice, routinely violates detainees’ rights, and grants impunity to abusive security services.”
Nevertheless, it was at least semiplausible to argue that the Free Gaza movement, while scapegoating the Jewish state, didn’t traffic in overt anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Then Berlin’s Twitter message was discovered last week. Berlin said she posted the video without watching it, and that the message was meant for a private Facebook group. Her critics pointed out that the private sharing of Nazi propaganda doesn’t fall into a different moral category than the public sharing of Nazi propaganda, and so she then argued the message was meant to be part of a broader discussion about the nature of hateful propaganda. Free Gaza has officially disowned the post and taken it down.
But this isn’t Berlin’s first dalliance with purveyors of anti-Semitism. She has also endorsed the work of an ex-Israeli Holocaust revisionist (yes, such a person exists) named Gilad Atzmon, author of “The Wandering Who?” Atzmon has argued, among other things, that it was the Jews who persecuted Hitler, and that Jews who commemorate the Holocaust are followers of the “the most sinister religion known to man.”
Berlin had this to say about Atzmon’s book: “’The Wandering Who’ entertains, pushes and irritates us. His painful journey through what it means to be Jewish, what the consequences are of carrying that realization around, and his ultimate acceptance of who he is makes me awfully glad I was raised a Methodist.”
What does this all mean? I’ve been asking for months why the international left hasn’t shown solidarity with the Syrian people -- an estimated 30,000 of whom have been killed by the fascist Baath party -- by launching a flotilla to Syria’s Mediterranean coastline. Gazans have a miserable life, but their suffering today pales in comparison to that of Syrians. So why don’t the people behind the Gaza flotillas organize a relief effort? The answer is simple: If the Syrians were being slaughtered by Israelis, they would.
I’ve always suspected that many of those on the far left who express solidarity with Palestinians are less interested in helping the Palestinians than in scapegoating their Jewish adversaries. Berlin might have inadvertently helped the world understand that the extreme left has something in common with the extreme right: an obsessive interest in demonizing the Jews.
(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist and a national correspondent for The Atlantic. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Today’s highlights: the editors on why Romney is half-right on Syria and on the end of the austerity era at the IMF; Ramesh Ponnuru on why Ryan will win the vice presidential debate; Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers on Romney and fiscal responsibility; Cass R. Sunstein on how turncoats make us more open-minded; Adam Freedman on the Obama administration’s attack on property rights; Camille Paglia on Jacques-Louis David’s painting of a murder victim.
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