Hitchens-Blumenthal feud escalates
Beltway dispute takes ugly turn with charge of Holocaust denial
- The falling-out between writer Christopher Hitchens, left, and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal has escalated.
By Jonathan Broder
SPECIAL TO MSNBC
WASHINGTON, Feb. 16- The bitter personal feud between White House aide Sidney Blumenthal and British journalist Christopher Hitchens has escalated from harsh charges of perjury and perfidy to one of the most emotionally charged accusations .
“His thesis … was that the Holocaust was a fiction developed by a conspiracy of interests bent on ëcriminalizing the German Nation.”
EDWARD J. EPSTEIN
Recalling conversation with Christopher Hitchens
AUTHOR Edward J. Epstein, a friend of Blumenthal, told MSNBC that four years ago, Hitchens questioned whether the Holocaust had ever taken place. The Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitism around the world, says Hitchens is not a Holocaust denier, and now Hitchens, a caustic critic of President Clinton, is accusing Epstein of launching a plot to destroy his reputation and is considering legal action against him.
“Why now?” Hitchens said in an interview. “I suspect it is an effort by the Clintonoids to change the subject.”
The White House denies it had anything to do with Epstein’s charges.
The public falling-out between Hitchens and Blumenthal occurred earlier this month when Hitchens swore in an affidavit that the senior White House aide had passed on to him Clinton’s description of Monica Lewinsky as a “stalker” over lunch last March. Because Blumenthal recently testified that he did not mention the “stalker” to any reporters or friends, he now faces possible perjury charges.
A THEORY OVER DRINKS
Within the small world of Washington journalists and policymakers, where Hitchens and Blumenthal had been friends for 15 years, some have accused Hitchens of treachery while others, mostly Republicans, have hailed his courage. Hitchens said the target of his affidavit was Clinton, not Blumenthal.
But their feud, already a cause celebre in intellectual and literary circles, has now grown decidedly uglier with Epstein’s charges.
Epstein told MSNBC that Hitchens had expressed his views on Holocaust denial on Feb. 12, 1995, as they ate dinner together with several others at the Royalton Hotel in New York after attending the 70th anniversary celebrations for The New Yorker magazine at the Hudson Theater. Epstein said Hitchens’ remarks were so disturbing that he noted them in his diary when he got home that night.
“Once seated in a booth, and freely sipping his free red wine, Hitchens advanced a theory more revealing than anything going on at the Hudson theater,” Epstein wrote in his notes at the time. “His thesis, to the shock of everyone at the table, was that the Holocaust was a fiction developed by a conspiracy of interests bent on ‘criminalizing the German Nation.’
“He explained that no evidence of German mass murder had ever been found — and what gruesome artifacts had been found had been fabricated after the event,” Epstein wrote. “What of the testimony of Nazi generals at Nuremberg about the death camps, I asked. He explained, without missing a beat, that such admissions were obtained under Anglo-American torture. I then asked, ‘But what happened to the Jews in Europe?’ Hitch shrugged and said, ‘Many were killed by local villagers when they ran away,’ others died natural deaths, and the remainder made it to Israel.”
‘A TRAP QUESTION’
In a telephone interview from California, Hitchens would not comment on the conversation with Epstein that night.
“It’s a trap question, like ‘When did you stop beating your wife,’ ” he said. “There is no point of getting into denials.”
“I suspect it is an effort by the Clintonoids to change the subject.”
Hitchens noted, however, that the dinner conversation took place a few months after he had written a piece in The Nation, a left-wing magazine, about French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson, and about a year before he wrote another piece for Vanity Fair about British Holocaust revisionist David Irving.
“I’m very interested in the subject,” said Hitchens, 49, who discovered only 12 years ago that his mother was Jewish.
Hitchens, an iconoclast whose targets have included Mother Teresa, the pope and Princess Diana, raised a forest of eyebrows with his 1996 Irving piece. In it, Hitchens flayed St. Martin’s Press for canceling plans to publish Irving’s book on the papers of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, after protests from other Holocaust historians and commentators who labeled Irving an anti-Semite.
“It’s unimportant to me that Irving is my political polar opposite,” Hitchens wrote. “If I didn’t read my polar opponents, I’d be even stupider than I am,” Hitchens also noted that “Irving is not just a Fascist historian. He is also a great historian of Fascism.”
Vanity Fair later published a reply from Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Intellectual dishonesty pervades Christopher Hitchens’ comments on the well-known Holocaust denier and Nazi apologist David Irving,” Foxman wrote. “He glosses over Irving’s extensive record as an anti-Semite.” “Some describe Hitchens as an ‘intellectual entertainer,’ who takes controversial positions to exercise his brain.”
But when asked if the ADL considered Hitchens a Holocaust denier himself, spokesperson Myrna Shinbaum said Tuesday, “No. He’s a writer. We don’t always agree with what he writes about, but he’s not a Holocaust denier.”
Joshua Muravchik, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, describes Hitchens as an “intellectual entertainer,” one who often takes controversial positions “simply for the fun of exercising his brain.”
A number of Hitchens’ friends said he also often drinks too much, an observation Hitchens does not dispute.
Among those who were present at the controversial 1995 dinner were Vogue editor Anna Wintour, who said through a spokesman that she did not recall the conversation that Epstein described.
Epstein, however, is adamant about his recollection of what Hitchens said that night. Moreover, he insists that he didn’t keep it to himself until now, as Hitchens claims, but that he shared it with a number of people at the time, including Hitchens’ editor at The Nation, Victor Navasky.
Navasky confirmed in an interview that Epstein had told him about Hitchens’ alleged remarks at the time, but he said they did not trouble him and he never brought up the subject with Hitchens.
“I never took it seriously as a charge,” Navasky said.