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Jewish groups reject accusations of exploiting Holocaust

Historian Norman Finkelstein has accused American Jews of exploiting the Holocaust for personal gain swissinfo.ch

Jewish groups in Switzerland have condemned a new book, released on Thursday, which accuses Jews in the United States of using the Holocaust to enrich themselves at the expense of Switzerland and Germany.

This content was published on July 20, 2000 - 17:20

The book, entitled "The Holocaust Industry", suggests that American Jewish organisations have distorted the facts of the Nazi genocide to blackmail Swiss and German companies into paying reparations.

The author, American Jewish historian Norman Finkelstein, claims "The money is being extorted from Europe on false pretences... and the actual [Holocaust] survivors never see a dime".

His controversial statements have already drawn fierce criticism from Jewish groups. Thomas Lyssy, vice-president of the federation of Jewish communities in Switzerland, told swissinfo the book has totally misrepresented the case against Swiss banks.

"Switzerland was not a victim at all. There were very long and difficult discussions, certainly, but there was no blackmail, as Mr Finkelstein alleges."

In the book Finkelstein targets Jewish American organisations for "recruiting" the top echelons of the Clinton administration in order to pressurise Switzerland and Germany. Swiss banks were the first to give in, agreeing in 1998 to a $1.25 billion settlement of all claims against them.

Finkelstein maintains that not only are Holocaust survivors still waiting for compensation, but that Jewish organisations in the US are deliberately holding on to the money.

"The Swiss bankers have already deposited the $600 million - one half of the settlement - in the American bank accounts. But the American Jewish organisations are patiently waiting for all the survivors to die and then they'll keep all the money."

Finkelstein feels there should be a public accounting of the reparation monies and their allocation. In the Swiss case, he favours distributing funds through an international committee.

He also feels that "Jewish organisations should legally and morally account for their behaviour" and contends that the Clinton administration is "equally responsible for the extortion that took place".

Finkelstein told swissinfo one of his motivations for writing the book was to show that the "Holocaust industry has become the main fomenter of anti-Semitism in the world today. Making recourse to ruthless extortion tactics in order to extract compensation money on false pretexts is stirring up anti-Semitism throughout Europe."

Some of the fiercest criticism of Finkelstein's new book concerns his suggestion the Holocaust was not a unique event, and should be seen as in a similar context to the crimes of Stalin, Pol Pot, and the Belgian occupation of the Congo.

"The abnormality of the Nazi Holocaust springs not from the event itself but from the exploitative industry that has grown up around it," says Finkelstein.

Lyssy refutes this entirely. "Most people agree that the Holocaust was something really special and tragic, and unfortunately Mr Finkelstein is taking up arguments, which were up to now stated only by anti-Semites or people who wanted to refuse to accept that the Holocaust happened in that way."

by Jonas Hughes

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