Deborah Lipstadt watched the television coverage the other day of Ward Churchill, the University of Colorado scholar under fire for calling the 9-11 victims “little Eichmanns,” and something seemed familiar.
Churchill had compared Lipstadt, the Emory University professor of Jewish and Holocaust studies who won a 2002 libel suit brought by a British Holocaust denier, to Eichmann, an architect of the Final Solution.
In one of her files, she found an already forgotten article in which Churchill wrote: “There is no difference between … a Deborah Lipstadt and an Adolf Eichmann.”
She reread the article, and decided that Churchill’s critics, including Colorado’s governor, err when they publicly confront Churchill and call for his dismissal from the CU faculty.
Churchill, who claims Native American roots, attacks Lipstadt in print every few years, she said. “He thinks I’m worse than a Holocaust denier because I don’t acknowledge that the American Indians experienced a holocaust” at the hands of white Americans. She finds many of his other statements outlandish –– in addition to making his controversial remarks about the people who died on 9-11, he has also been quoted as comparing explorer Christopher Columbus to Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler.
But Lipstadt thinks those who disagree with Churchill should ignore him –– until they can prove that he is doing harm on campus.
“Don’t turn him into a martyr,” she told The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. “Don’t overreact. Don’t play into his hands.” This is her advice for dealing with all Holocaust deniers and twisters of history. “Do not give them a platform.”
“He seems to be a third-rate scholar,” Lipstadt said. “He has been turned into a rock star because of the attempt to silence him.”
Lipstadt has some advice for those who are reacting to Churchill’s behavior. “First, do your homework,” she advises. “Find out, does he create a hostile atmosphere in his class to anyone who disagrees with him? Does he provide nonfactual information” in his lectures. If the answer is yes, if he is falling short of the standards to which an educator should be held, then it is legitimate to seek his removal, Lipstadt said. If not, then keep quiet. Lipstadt called British historian David Irving a Holocaust denier in her 1993 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory.” Irving sued her and lost. “I would not sue Irving,” she said. She wouldn’t give him such a courtroom platform from which to spread his views. “Irving himself is not important,” she said. “The same is true for Ward Churchill.”