Amazon.com and Anti-Semitism
Sun, 05/16/2010
Special to the Jewish Week

I was greeted on a recent morning with an email from Amazon.com recommending three books, two of which are notorious anti-Semitic tracts: "The International Jew: The World's Most Foremost Problem" by Henry Ford and "The Protocols of the Meetings of the Learned Elders of Zion." Why? Because Amazon accurately reminds me that I had purchased the 25th anniversary paperback edition of "The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine" by Edwin Black.

This was a legitimate study of an actual agreement between the mainstream Zionist movement and the Nazi regime which allowed tens of thousands of German Jews to flee to Palestine in the 1930s. Black is neither anti-Zionist nor anti-Semitic. But anti-Zionist ideologues hyperventilate on this difficult decision by Zionist authorities to ransom Jewish lives and thereby undermine an international boycott against the Nazi economy; they regard this as a smoking gun on the evils of Zionism.

Certainly not all, but a number of anti-Zionists are also anti-Jewish bigots. Based on its online algorithms, Amazon knows that my interest in this book overlaps with what interests such haters.

On its site promoting purchases of "The Protocols...,"  Amazon notes that this book is notorious "propaganda," yet also complains of a "hoax" email claiming that Amazon has given it a favorable review. It then goes on to defend the sale of this and other such hate-mongering literature in the "long tradition of booksellers serving as guardians of free expression in our society."

I suspect that it’s an oversight because nobody’s made a fuss, rather than a considered policy, that there is no similar flagging of Henry Ford's "The International Jew" as pernicious. The aforementioned writer, Edwin Black, has indicated that Adolf Hitler felt indebted to Ford for revealing the global nature of the Jewish "problem" and its need for a "solution."

There is more than one edition offered for sale. One site provides testimonials from enthusiastic readers. Another offers the publisher's description and defense of this work, in wording that is simultaneously malicious and attempts to preempt any charge of anti-Semitism:

“... In no way is the publisher anti-Semitic. As a religious and philosophical publisher, we make old and scarce works available to the modern reader-regardless of their position on any certain topic. For the Jewish zealots who are outraged at this publication, consider that if anything stated herein is true, then the Jewish people must live with their history without remaking it or pretending it to be something different than what is the actual truth. If these articles are false and derogatory, then let the facts speak for themselves and condemn the editors of these articles. The truth will eventually surface to the benefit of both the Jewish zealot and those who would criticize the great Jewish people. Certainly in the twenty-first century, an advanced society can debate ideas on their own merit and prove any philosophy to be true or false without fanaticism from either side. No race or religion is above criticism. Conversely, no race or religion is worthy of condemnation and excoriation. It is not the words in a book that make or demean a people-only their actions. Every person and every race has their high and low moments. Only a fair minded soul can see the good in all peoples everywhere. Hopefully, you the reader, are such a soul. This book contains important historical information and as such, it is herewith reprinted.”

As is generally true of Amazon.com sites, this page also helpfully informs the reader in large type that "Customers who bought this item also bought" and proceeds to list such titles as: "The Protocols...," "The Jews and Their Lies" by Martin Luther, "The Synagogue of Satan," "The Talmud Unmasked: The Secret Rabbinical Teachings Concerning Christians," and other hateful tracts, as well as some legitimate books (including one that exposes Ford's anti-Semitism, "Henry Ford and the Jews: The Mass Production of Hate"). These other books have their own sites, with “Customers...also bought” lists that largely cross reference each other. These sites similarly promote those other books with laudatory summaries from their publishers and testimonials (mostly) from readers.

I don't necessarily disagree with Amazon's practice of selling this material, but I wonder if it should be marketed in the same way as anything else, without a warning as to its toxicity, as Amazon provides for "The Protocols...." Yet I admit the risk of a slippery slope: where do you draw the line in labeling some books as toxic and others as fair expression? Yes, like pornography, I generally know it when I see it, but I'm not sure that we can regulate it.

Still, maybe we owe it to ourselves in the Jewish and liberal communities to monitor Amazon's voluminous sites and nudge the company to do the right thing by applying appropriate advisories.

Ralph Seliger is editor of ISRAEL HORIZONS, the publication of Meretz USA, and blogs at www.meretzusa.blogspot.com.

 

 

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