Earlier this month, the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson lost a defamation suit against Le Monde, which had published an article calling him a “professional liar” and a “falsifier of history.” Paul Berman traces Faurisson’s intellectual development—which began when he was exposed to the ideas of the “sad-sack left-wing pacifist” Paul Rassinier—and the bizarre quarters that have been receptive to his work:
[Rassinier argued that], even if conditions in [German concentration] camps were less than good, neither were they especially terrible, and Germany’s conduct during the war was no worse than any other country’s. Germany ought not to be demonized. And the truly evil people in the camps were the Communist prisoners. And the Jews were responsible for the war. . . .
Rassinier was originally a man of the left, but his disciple Faurisson is a man with ultraright-wing origins, and some of the early successes of his thesis came about, as might be expected, on the ultraright. [It was Faurisson’s] belief that Germany in World War II acted in self-defense against the Jews. Faurissonism is, in short, a postwar extension of Nazism—as ought to be obvious at a glance. . . . In the United States, Faurisson was taken up by the right-wing champions of the old isolationist movement, who were eager to show that, just as Wilhelmine Germany in World War I was not as bad as the pro-war argument in that era had maintained, neither was Nazi Germany as bad as was said by the supporters of World War II. The old-time isolationists were glad to have an opportunity to condemn Israel and the Zionists, too. . . .
Then again, Faurisson’s successes came on the ultraleft, chiefly in France. A group of well-known veterans of the 1968 uprising in Paris, the Vieille Taupe or “Old Mole” group, led by someone named Pierre Guillaume, began to see in Faurisson’s writings a tool for advancing the anti-imperialist cause (on the grounds that Western imperialism was the largest crime of the 20th century, but its criminality has been concealed under a cloud of accusations about the crimes of Nazism—which means that, if Nazi behavior can be shown to have been no worse than anybody else’s, the scale of the imperialist crime can at last stand fully revealed). . . . [Around 1980], Noam Chomsky, who in those days was more than well-known, . . . struck up an alliance with Guillaume. . . .
Chomsky, an MIT linguist who was by then a leading far-left thinker, repeatedly defended Faurisson, insisting he was doing so in the name of freedom of speech, even while claiming that Faurisson was a “liberal” who conducted his research in good faith and was by no means an anti-Semite. To Berman, there is no doubt that Chomsky’s affinity with Faurisson ran much deeper because—like Mahmoud Abbas, another admirer of Faurisson—they shared an abiding and maniacal hatred for the Jewish state.