Is Ward Churchill, the controversial University of Colorado professor who will speak at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on March 1, a Jewish community issue?
Only marginally, it seems at first glance, because of his appropriation of Holocaust imagery in the contentious essay, “‘Some People Push Back’: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens” which recently drew widespread criticism.
In that essay, Churchill described many workers in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns,” referring to Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the German Nazi genocide of Europe’s Jews.
They resembled him, to Churchill, because they “formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America’s global financial empire — the ‘mighty engine of profit’ to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved — and they did so both willingly and knowingly.”
Therefore, the “combat teams” that struck on Sept. 11, 2001, were committing justified “acts of war” and have “given Americans a tiny dose of their own medicine” in retaliation for American atrocities like the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children due to the U.S. embargo of that country after the first Persian Gulf War in the early 1990s, Churchill wrote.
The Eichmann reference is what Harriet Schachter McKinney, executive director of the American Jewish Committee-Milwaukee Chapter, focused on when asked for her reaction.
“I don’t think he had a clue about how hurtful Holocaust imagery is to Jews and other people,” McKinney told The Chronicle. “He misused Holocaust imagery for his own purpose and has been called on the carpet to atone for it.”
Moreover, the reference isn’t accurate, according to Ronald Berger, professor of sociology at UW-Whitewater.
Berger is the son of a Holocaust survivor and has done research, written books (“Constructing a Collective Memory of the Holocaust”  and “Fathoming the Holocaust” ) and taught classes about the Holocaust.
Churchill’s reference exemplifies a common use of Eichmann “as a metaphor of people following orders to do evil, based on simplistic acceptance of what he said at his trial,” Berger said.
But Eichmann “did more than follow orders” and in fact “went beyond orders” to help formulate anti-Jewish policies, Berger said.
Berger will be one of the speakers at a forum at UW-Whitewater on Feb. 22, a week before Churchill’s scheduled appearance. According to Tom Drucker, instructor of mathematics and computer sciences and an informal advisor to the Jewish Student Organization at Whitewater, this event will be “addressing claims [Churchill] makes” in his writings.
A second forum on Feb. 24 will address the freedom of speech issues involved in Churchill’s speaking engagement, Drucker said.
But both Drucker and Jonathan Ivry, assistant professor of languages and literatures at UW-Whitewater, said there was no local “Jewish reaction” to the university’s decision to have Churchill speak there.
Ideology of hatred?
Nevertheless, Churchill does direct specific criticism at the Jewish community in his book, “A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present” (City Lights Books, 1997).
This essay collection includes an item titled, “Lie for Lie: Linkages Between Holocaust Deniers and Proponents of the ‘Uniqueness of the Jewish Experience in World War II’”.
In that essay, Churchill alleges that Holocaust denial has “a flip side” that is “equally objectionable.”
That is the view that the Nazi Holocaust “is the only such occurrence in all human history” and “somehow happened uniquely and exclusively to its Jewish victims.”
Churchill contends that this is being done out of an “agenda of establishing a ‘truth’ which serves to compel permanent maintenance of the privileged political status of Israel, the Jewish state established on Arab land in 1947 as an act of international atonement for the Holocaust; to forge a secular reinforcement, based on the myth of unique suffering, of Judaism’s theological belief in itself as comprising a ‘special’ or ‘chosen’ people, entitled to all the prerogatives of such; and to construct a conceptual screen behind which to hide the realities of Israel’s ongoing genocide against the Palestinian population whose rights and property were usurped in its very creation.”
So far, apparently the only person to have commented on this aspect of Churchill’s thinking is Edward Alexander, professor of English at the University of Washington and author of “Classical Liberalism and the Jewish Tradition” (Transaction, 2002), among other books.
Alexander quoted from the “Lie for Lie” essay in an article, “Ward Churchill and the Politics of Campus Extremism,” which was originally published on the Web site, FrontPageMag.com, on Feb. 7, and picked up by New York-based The Jewish Press on Feb. 10.
To Alexander, Churchill’s “’academic’ extremism is the order of the day on campus, and [his] ideology of hatred is just one small example of an all too prevalent phenomenon on campus.”