The Forty Years War between the New York Times and reality is revisiting old war scenes and once again stirring contention. Now they are using art critics for ammunition – specifically writer Jason Farago. Recently Farago reviewed “Operation Finale,” an exhibit on the capture and trial of Adolph Eichmann, the major SS officer streamlining the “Final Solution” of Jews during World War II.
Eichmann’s 1960 capture was spectacular, and it echoed around the world. Because it was planned and executed by Mossad agents, it played out like a thriller. Certainly the cunning of the Israelis and their Cold War spy wizardry alone are worth an exhibit. Hidden mics, cameras, blacked-out goggles, and hi-tech military gear are in this exhibit – as well as disguises, false passports, and recordings. The center piece is the bulletproof glass cage where Eichmann safely sat through the court proceedings.
There were no weapons used, because agents were under orders to bring him unharmed. Israel hoped these public trials would establish the evils of anti-Semitism by the defendant’s own words. There was nothing Eichmann could possibly say to justify the Holocaust – but they would give him a fair trial, with representation and a chance to explain himself.
Architects of the trial also assumed the world would finally perceive the abyss between behaviour of Jews toward their nemesis, and the barbarity of Nazis toward millions of innocent civilians. Farago’s review, although delicately handled, proved that hasn’t happened yet.
There were no openly anti-Semitic remarks in the New York Times piece, but many readers found reasons to be angry and appalled. Farago began reasonably enough, with a description of Eichmann’s unlikely hideout: a squalid house in a poor area of Buenos Aires. One of the most wanted war criminals in history unexplainably walked away from American custody after the war. He made his way to Argentina, where he changed his name to “Ricardo Klement.”
Farago documents the SS officer’s fiefdom of death over Europe, and his plans to extend it even further. Eichmann’s to-do list included the death of more than 11 million Jews, and he was over half-way there at the war’s end. Appearing to understand this, Farago adds several thoughtless jibes and glib remarks. He notes the exhibit fails to bring up moral and legal dilemmas (over Mossad actions, not Nazis) and questions whether the Israeli mission was “was entirely just.”
Farago also criticized the museum for not bringing in Hannah Arendt, as if the issues and complex capture story wasn’t enough. Arendt was a famed German-American reporter for the New Yorker, who covered the original trial … but she wasn’t a direct victim of the Holocaust, and was critical of the trial. Why would Arendt appear in this exhibit? Apparently, New York newspaper reporters should have the last word on life, death and justice.
Farago charged the museum with showing “little engagement … on the meaning of justice [or] on individual versus state guilt.” He hasn’t thought these issues out well. If Israel punished the nations who turned against them in some proportionate manner, this exhibit would feature a great deal of radioactivity. They have had nuclear capabilities for a long time. Eichmann’s capture, trial, and punishment were merely symbolic justice – a placeholder for what they will never get. It’s a highly civilized and restrained type of justice that perhaps the New York Times doesn’t comprehend.
The art critic, Farago, also faults video testimony by an agent involved in “Operation Finale” – Rafi Eitan – calling it “bombastic and superficial, more appropriate to the History channel than to a rigorous exhibition.” News for Farago: These are history exhibits, at history museums. Someone should send the Times a map so Farago can find art galleries.
Farago uses a disdainful tone referring to Israel, which could well be a new literary form devised by the Times: “These philosophical dilemmas and legal repercussions don’t much trouble ‘Operation Finale’ whose overly pat narrative may reflect its genesis within an Israeli government institution.” There is always the implication that the Israeli government isn’t the real thing. They’ll never be respectable in the pages of the New York Times.
The last paragraphs in Farago’s piece are mind boggling. He indirectly accuses the exhibitors (Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan) of overreaction to the Holocaust. Dripping patronization, Farago complains they (Israeli survivors and Mossad) just don’t catch the “shades of difference between ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘crimes against the Jewish people.'”
This direct quote posits that crimes against “humanity” do not include the “Jewish people.” I see no other way to read it.
Nor did other readers, who vented in publications such as New York Sun and the Algemeiner. Farago’s critique runs in parallel to the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement working to end international support for Israel over issues of Palestine), which makes equivalencies between terrorists driving into pedestrians, and the Israel soldiers who are forced to shoot them.
Farago’s review also points out the obvious: “Eichmann, after all, was kidnapped from a sovereign nation without warning.”
Why not mention Argentina’s open-door policy for war criminals? How legal is that? Farago’s criticism is petty and destructive, in the way true bigotry can be. The net effect of this is to legitimize anti-Semitism, Nazis and Eichmann.
Ira Stoll points out the circular self-referencing Farago used to give his nonsense some gravitas, such as citing “newspaper editorials” urging Israel to turn the other cheek. Farago fails to mention the source of these editorials. Lo and Behold, it’s the New York Times.
Preparing for this column, I watched videos of Eichmann, and a 1996 movie of his arrest and extradition. His sociopathic flippancy was mesmerizing and baffling; but a common excuse for his monstrous crimes was a call to duty: “I obeyed the Fuhrer.” “I did a good job for my country.” Why kill all the Jews? “It was war” or “It was the law.”
These flat and meaningless explanations find a slight echo in this review by the Times. References to “kidnapping” Eichmann, or the inability of Jews to comprehend justice … all this ill-will is transferred to victims and survivors.
This isn’t an accusation of evil lurking in the hearts of Farago or other left-wing reporters, but their confusion over morality is troubling. The pages of the New York Times prove the “banality of evil” that Hannah Arendt couldn’t understand in Eichmann is alive and well in America.
“Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann” runs through Dec. 22 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Manhattan, New York