Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

‘Denial’ is the movie for the election season

Remember that famous scene in “Seinfeld” where Mrs. Seinfeld browbeats Jerry into seeing “Schindler’s List”? “You have to see it!”

For Helen Seinfeld, the act of seeing “Schindler’s List” was not mere entertainment; it was a moral, even religious, imperative.

“Denial” falls into that same entertainment/moral category. It is the “must see” movie of this election season.

“Denial” is the story of Emory University professor, Deborah Lipstadt, and how she was forced to defend herself in a libel trial in England. The British author, David Irving (portrayed in the film by Timothy Spall) brought the suit against her because she had called him a “Holocaust denier” in her book Denying the Holocaust. According to laws in the UK, in a libel suit, the “libeler” is considered guilty until proven innocent.

The trial was long and draining — emotionally, financially, physically, and spiritually. Lipstadt was defended by the noted English barrister and scholar, Anthony Julius (who was Princess Diana’s divorce attorney, and the author of one of the best books on anti-Semitism that I have ever read — and that says a lot), as well as Richard Rampton, brilliantly portrayed by the noted actor Tom Wilkinson. The film includes soul-searing footage in Auschwitz, as members of the legal team and their consultants visit the infamous concentration camp on a fact-finding mission.

There is much to say about “Denial.” After seeing it, I decided to re-read Deborah’s book on the ordeal.

First, I have a personal relationship with Professor Lipstadt, going back to my days in Atlanta (and even before), and I consider her one of my heroines. Rachel Weisz’s portrayal of Deborah deserves an Academy Award — if for nothing else than her perfect evocation of Deborah’s New York/Queens accent and cadence. It was a loving tribute to a marvelously impressive woman, who lived up to her biblical namesake (and the film shows Deborah also drawing inspiration from a statue of Boudica, the ancient British Celtic queen who led a rebellion against the Romans).

Second, the movie alludes to one of the most important, but necessarily least known, aspects of the case (though it is more clearly described in Deborah’s book on the trial).

That is the fact that significant American Jewish philanthropists, quietly but resolutely, “passed the hat” to help pay for Deborah’s defense. Here, the credit goes to the late, lamented Rabbi Herbert Friedman of the Wexner Foundation, who told Deborah: “It’s time to get organized. Irving set his sights on you, but it’s the entire Jewish community he is aiming at.”

Les Wexner made it happen. And so did the American Jewish Committee, under the leadership of David Harris, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The story of “Denial,” therefore, is the story of American Jews working together, behind the scenes, to pursue justice. It is also the story of how Emory University itself was a full partner in Deborah’s defense.

Herb Friedman was right: this was not just Deborah’s fight; it belonged to the entire Jewish community.

And third, this movie is absolutely crucial — and the timing of its release could not have been better and more pertinent.

Why? Because it is about a very relevant theme that runs through American life today.

What is the nature of David Irving’s ideology?

Listen to the poem that he taught his daughter — prompted by seeing black or racially-mixed children on the street:

I am a Baby Aryan

Not Jewish or Sectarian

I have no plans to marry an

Ape or Rastafarian.

Sound familiar?

But, more than that: David Irving made s______ up.

Yes, he was intellectually dishonest. But this dishonesty goes far beyond mere shoddiness and sloppiness.

It is a dishonesty that has, at its core, sheer mendacity and hatred.

The issue of making s_____ up goes far beyond David Irving and Holocaust deniers. It has fully migrated into UNESCO, which has denied the historical Jewish connection to sacred sites in Jerusalem.

And, let the record note: the scenes of neo-Nazis confronting Lipstadt outside the trial are eerily reminiscent of the rise of the American alt-right.

Go see the movie.

And fight those tendencies within certain dark corners of American political life — that would emulate David Irving and his supporters.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • David Irving’s nonsense was laid out for all the world to see and came up empty. Every aspect of the case is laid out and ready for the perusal of the general public.

    Anyone in this day and age who pretends it is still possible to keep up a Holocaust denial stance in light of the overwhelming documentary evidence available to anyone online is either delusional or just a dishonest cretin.

  • Spuddie……did the Germans shrink heads of Jewish people during ww2? Did the Germans make soap out of Jewish fat? Both have been proven to be lies.
    Why do people get thrown in person for questioning the 6 million number, but yet Jewish historians have revised the death toll numerous times and they don’t get put in prison. The Auschwitz death toll has been reduced by millions. But yet when Ursala Haverbeck questions the death toll, she gets a prison sentence.

  • The author is making a very serious mistake to think that any current trends seen today of antisemitism/anti-Israel ideology are strictly seen by far right radicals or even the so called manufactured label alt-right. The current manifestation of these trends can be found among the far left radicals such as UNESCO, the BDS movements, our own President and his policies, and the die hard pro-Palestinian supporters who call Israel the new Apartheid state. In fact, I find more support coming from the right for those of the Jewish faith and Israel than I hear from the left. This is the grand misconception the left holds of those on the right, rather than address and identify their own rouge fringes. This is why I have disavowed the left until they can get a grip on reality, truths.

    Now, back to the issue of the movie, it sounds like it will be very good with talented actors. I am also glad that addressing holocaust deniers and refuting their lies and distortions is getting this attention. I don’t think people are aware as well to the increase of antisemitism that has grown in the past few years.

  • 1. Yes,it was one of Ilsa Koch’s hobbies
    2. It was proposed and the plan was documented at Wansee.
    3. Because you are assuming they are lying and covering up a well documented situation. The six million figure came from Adolf Eichmann’s estimates and ignores the 2 million or so killed in the “Holocaust by Bullet” of 1942-43. It’s an underestimate.
    4. Libel and slander are criminal offenses in continental Europe. People who deliberately lie for the purposes of defamation bring that kind of risk over there.

    David Irving’s lies are laid bare for anyone to see and are refuted in the site I linked to.

    Holocaust Denial is past the point one can claim its mere ignorance of history. It is deliberate and malicious lying about it. I would tell you to educate yourself on the subject, but it is clear you know better but choose to be dishonest.

  • Well, we have to keep picking at the scabs and keep the holocaust alive, or else we can’t draw attention to the fact that we’re a special people chosen by God to be an example to the nations. We’ve never understood that mission, but we love staying tied to the acts of hatred from the past, rather than opening up new avenues for loving in the present. We’d rather be objects of pity, than to be the strong examples of what a people might grow to be, once they’ve shed their dependence on the past.

  • BTW true fact, the actress who played Ilsa in the nazisploitation films bearing her name was Jewish. 🙂

  • I was unaware that you are an admin to this site. go eff yourself….And you call yourself a Christian? What a joke.

  • “And you call yourself a Christian?”

    Nope. Never did.

    Not an admin on the site either. I certainly didn’t flag your garbage as inappropriate. Quite the opposite I want people to see what kind of person you are. The worst thing I can think of is someone who actually takes you seriously because they don’t understand who they are responding to.

    The offer is still on the table. You can go eff youself anytime you want.

  • Lol, on what grounds could Irving sue for libel?? If he denied the Holocaust existing, why would he consider it “libel” to be called a “Holocaust denier”??

  • He was taking advantage of the UK’s libel laws, which penalize the loser of a suit with the legal fees of the winner. They are used a lot to silence opposing viewpoints by spending an opponent into the ground. He claimed Lipstadt defamed him in her point by point takedown of his Holocaust denial screed. Essentially calling him a liar. It blew up in his face in a bad way.

    David Irving was so pervasive that every Holocaust denier has used his material at one point or another. Since the entirety of his work was officially considered rubbish, it removes any hint of respectability these malicious liars might aspire to.

  • “It is a dishonesty that has, at its core, sheer mendacity and hatred.”

    I am impressed, not only with your ability to discern dishonesty, but what is/are at its core, as well.

    I shall resist the temptation to take you at your word.

  • I’m looking forward to seeing the movie too.

    I don’t consider the “alt-right”, better known as white supremacists, to be a legitimate part of the snacilbupeR right, but tea baggers are awfully close.

    I don’t know what Israel is supposed to do, surrounded by nations that want to wipe them out. On the other hand, what are the Palestinians supposed to do? They’ve got radicals using them for human shields, but their families are running out of basic needs. I don’t think the BDS people really terrible, nor are the Israelis, except Netanyahu and his cronies.

    The solution lies somewhere between the two extremes.

  • I read the UNESCO document. It did mention the sites importance to Jews and Christians and used the Jewish name for it – once. They didn’t deny it, they minimized it and took a pro-Muslim stance, as usual. This is the second article on the subject.

  • I have my criticisms of some of Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians but it has nothing to do with Judaism (or Islam). No government, including ours, is exempt from honest criticism.

  • It helps that David Irving’s dishonesty is laid out for the entire public to see. He had his chance in an open forum where evidence could be reviewed objectively to make his point. He came up not only empty, but was caught lying on more occasions than can be counted.

    Anyone who still maintains Holocaust denial is not only maliciously mendacious but beating a dead horse. There is no possibility of holocaust denial ever being considered the province of intelligent people ever again.

  • You apparently know nothing about the founding of Israel, or their history from that day forward to today. Your just like the rest, ranting antisemitic BS disguised as logic and truth. I would also urge you to see a professional help because you have been brainwashed with lies quickly before you get served some Kool-Aid. Oh wait it already happened apparently.

  • And you have just proven my original point. There are radical lefty’s who are pushing racist, bigotry and try to wrap it up all pretty. Your peddling a garbage bag full of trash and think slapping a bow on it makes it a gift.

  • Israel is not infallible, and everything they do is not perfect. However I find it hard to remain silent when the left overlooks the atrocities committed by the Palestinians. The Palestinians initiate more violence against Israel, and when they respond they are demonized. And then to top it all off they seem to feel they are doing justice to the matter by having these attitudes. Do I believe the Palestinians should have their own country, yes, provided they live by the simple, peaceful, free, demands of recognizing the right of Israel to exist and end all hostilities against them. They can’t even do that. Why people are so supportive of Palestine and demonize Israel is mind boggling.

  • That is true. They are portrayed as victims. Hamas is a terrorist organization devoted to the destruction of Israel and all Jews. They are despicable. But the world is on their side. Ironically the struggle is likend to David and Goliath with Israel cast as Goliath. If they had dealt with the occupied territories long ago they could have avoided this situation.

  • Hey Sabel…

    that we’re a special people chosen by God to be an example to the nations. We’ve never understood that mission
    What if they are not those people? If interested, the book “who is Esau-Edom” is an interesting theory.

  • Hobo’s Roy, I like my theory better. At least it holds forth the possibility that thinking we have an influence on other peoples, it has a good chance of making it so! This is a big departure from my usual emphasis on individualism!

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