Posted by: jbwuk | March 9, 2011

Guest Blogger: Shaun Levin on The Arabs and the Holocaust

Some notes towards a blog entry on a talk between the Israeli writer Tom Segev and Gilbert Achcar, author of The Arabs and the Holocaust:

1)  Segev says to Achcar in his intro that “I expected to agree with you more than I actually did.

2) The hall is packed. Apparently it was packed for the evening on Jesus and the Jews, too. I’m not sure what to make of this.

3) Segev seems not to know what to make of Achcar. He avoids eye contact. He keeps saying yes, yes or right, right as if to hurry him on. I’m distracted by his distractedness. I’m also thinking about the woman who told me during the break that Gaddafi was Jewish.

4) Segev seems to think there was a Nazi Party in Baghdad at the time of the 1941 massacre. Achcar calls it a pogrom, which he says had more to do with anti-British feelings and the sense that the Jews were a fifth column.

5) I think it makes Jews uncomfortable when Arabs – or non-Jews in general – present themselves as experts on anything to do with the Holocaust.

6) Achcar’s point about the anti-Nazi sentiments of Palestinians during the 1930s because the Germans were helping Jews to immigrate to Palestine seems hard for Segev to hear. It’s like he’s hearing Achcar say something he’s not actually saying.

7) They talk about Holocaust denial in the Arab world and about the “varieties of Holocaust denial.” Achcar talks about some Arabs resorting to Holocaust denial as an act of defiance.

8)I’m still distracted by Segev’s body language, his reluctance to really engage, his slightly antagonistic approach.

9) A lot of what Achcar is talking about is – besides being in his book – in an article he wrote for the Guardian here.

10) I enjoy listening to Achcar talk about the importance of trying to understand each other’s trauma, and that Israelis need to acknowledge and understand the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948.

11) I’ve been thinking about my nephew in Israel who is about to go into the army and about whether I have a responsibility to teach him about the Nakba.

12) There’s talk about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But I’m distracted by other things, by Gaddafi, and those rumours from a while back about Ahmadinejad being Jewish.

13) Is it possible to address such a huge subject in such a short time? I think about Lore Segal’s brilliant story “The Reverse Bug” in which the (Jewish) teacher tells her ESOL students: “Tomorrow evening the institute is holding a symposium….The theme… is: ‘should there be a statue of limitations on genocide?’ With a wine and cheese reception.”

Shaun Levin is the author, most recently, of Trees at a Sanatorium, based on the relationship between the artists Mark Gertler and Dora Carrington, and Snapshots of The Boy, an exploration of the unseen stories in photographs. His other books include Seven Sweet ThingsA Year of Two Summers and Isaac Rosenberg’s Journey to Arras: A Meditation. He teaches creative writing on the Complete Creative Writing Course. Visit him here



  1. While Shaun Levin confesses to have been thinking of other things during the session, he is entirely accurate in his depiction of Tom Segev’s personality and body language. He came over as arrogant and as quite unwilling, even unable, to properly engage with Gilbert Achcar. To give a further bizarre example, Segev insisted on disputing that the Shoah was a significant boost to the creation of Israel, yet Achcar quotes Segev as supporting precisely this rather obvious point in one of his own books. Achcar’s written an excellent book and I thoroughly recommend it unless, like Segev, you prefer not to be taken out of your comfort zone.

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