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About Michael Rothberg

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Michael Rothberg is Professor of English and Director of the Initiative in Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies at the University of Illinois. His most recent book is Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization (2009). He is currently based in Berlin, where he is taking part in a collaborative research project on immigration and Holocaust memory in contemporary Germany supported by a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.



Articles by Michael Rothberg

This week’s front page editor

Adam Ramsay, Editor

Adam Ramsay is a co-editor of openDemocracyUK.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Neo-Nazi terror and Germany’s racism problem

A failed bank robbery on November 4 this year, exposed a cell in eastern Germany calling itself the “National Socialist Underground”, apparently responsible for the murder of at least ten people, most of them immigrants, among other acts of violence over the last decade. Together with the murder of dozens last summer by a Norwegian right-wing extremist this case has focused a spotlight on the presence of a new right-wing terrorism. Until the media and the population at large start recognizing immigrants and others marked by ethnic or religious difference as belonging to Germany, a deep-seated, everyday racism will provide fertile soil from which such acts of extremism will continue to grow.

The spectre of the "second Holocaust"

A few months ago, the Washington Post published a story recounting the attempts of the African American political theorist Danielle Allen to get to the bottom of the false claim that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Allen's Internet archaeology turned out to be as interesting as the actual answer - the origin of the claim seems to be a rather odd and anti-Semitic character named Andy Martin, who has recently reappeared in the Fox News "documentary" "Obama & Friends: The History of Radicalism." Allen's quest helped bring to view how smears circulate in our "new media" environment.  

If you've been following the American elections as obsessively as I have, you might also have noticed another odd, and even more inexplicable meme that has been circulating in Republican circles: references to the possibility of a "second holocaust." Most recently, an email was sent by Pennsylvania Republicans to Jewish voters in the state warning that "Jewish Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, November 4th, 2008. Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let's not make a similar one this year!"

According to the October 25 Associated Press story that reported this bizarre and offensive attempt to associate Obama with National Socialism and the genocide of Jews in World War II, the email further "warns ‘Fellow Jewish Voters' of the danger of a second Holocaust due to the threats to Israel from its neighbors and touts Republican presidential candidate John McCain's qualifications over those of Obama." 

Republicans have disavowed this particular email, but in fact the rhetoric it uses is consistent with statements that both McCain and Palin have been making in interviews and speeches. For instance, in a 19 September post on its "Political Radar" blog, ABC News reported that "Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin warned against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pursuit of nuclear weapons for a ‘second holocaust.'" According to Palin's remarks at a rally in Minnesota, "John McCain and I are committed to drawing attention to the danger posed by Iran's nuclear program and we will not waver in our commitment. I will continue to call for sustained action to prevent Iranian President Ahmadinejad from getting these weapons that he wants for a second holocaust."

Despite recent talk of Palin's tendency to "go rogue," it seems unlikely that she came up with this line of argument herself. Indeed, back in July, as MSNBC reports, John McCain went on Israeli television and, again a propos of Iran, declared, "I have to look you in the eye and tell you that the United States of America can never allow a second Holocaust."  

In the final week of the campaign the attempt to link Obama to Iran and alleged threats to Israel has become one of the McCain camp's central talking points (second only to the anachronistic attempt to portray Obama as a "socialist"). The "death to Israel" smear is being repeated in advertisements, direct mail campaigns, "Joe the Plumber" pronouncements, and other detritus of the campaign's last gasp efforts.  

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