Living Literacies Conference, York University, Toronto
Hadassah Magazine, September 2013
Interview by Charley J. Levine
Khaled Abu Toameh, 50, an award-winning Israeli journalist and documentary filmmaker, has reported on Arab affairs for three decades. He writes for The Jerusalem Post and the New York-based Gatestone Institute, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit international policy council and think tank, where he is a senior adviser. Since 1989, he also has been a producer and consultant for NBC News. He grew up in the Arab Israeli town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye near Haifa and studied at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He now lives in Jerusalem.
Q. What are the challenges of working as a journalist in the West Bank and Gaza?
A. Before the Oslo peace process began, Arab journalists had almost no problem traveling throughout the West Bank and Gaza, speaking freely with Palestinians. But ever since the Palestinian Authority came to the West Bank and Gaza, the situation has become much more challenging and dangerous. The P.A. expects you to serve as an official spokesperson and avoid criticism of its leaders.
With Hamas in power in Gaza, it’s become even more dangerous for independent Arab journalists. Because of the BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement against Israel, journalists representing the Israeli media, like myself, face not only difficulties but threats and even physical violence when we go to Ramallah. The P.A. leadership in the West Bank promotes BDS against Israel and also fights normalization with Israel. It bans meetings between Palestinians and Israelis and condemns the Israeli media as extremely hostile, which makes it impossible to work there and endangers our lives.
Q. How does the Arab street respond to your reporting?
A. No one tells me that what I am reporting is inaccurate or untrue. I am often criticized, however, for reporting the facts. I am only reporting what many Arab journalists want to report. If I resided in Ramallah, I would not be reporting many things. There are P.A. journalists who post critical things on Facebook and risk prison. Those who ask the wrong questions at press conferences are sometimes detained or even tortured.
I live inside Israel, so my reality is sharply different. I receive more threats from pro-Palestine students and academics in the U.S. than I do from local Palestinians.
Volker Ullrich, Adolf Hitler: Die Jahre des Aufstiegs, Fischer Verlage, 2013
Interview conducted by Jan Fleischhauer
Der Spiegel, October 11, 2013
In an interview about his new biography, historian Volker Ullrich discusses a dictator who was an antisemite but also a man of considerable charm.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Ullrich, how normal was Adolf Hitler?
Ullrich: He was not as crazy as some scholars of psychohistory would have us believe, at least, with their far too simplistic lines of argumentation. He may even have been more normal than we might wish.
SPIEGEL: Most people consider Hitler a psychopath. Many historians, too, believe that someone capable of committing such crimes cannot have been normal.
Ullrich: Hitler was without a doubt exceptional in his criminal deeds. Yet in many respects, he was not at all out of the ordinary. We will never be able to understand the terrible things that happened between 1933 and 1945 if we deny from the outset that Hitler also had human characteristics, and if we fail to take into account not only his criminal energies, but also the appealing qualities he had. So long as we view him only as a horrifying monster, the allure he undoubtedly exerted will remain a riddle.
SPIEGEL: Joachim Fest published a comprehensive biography of Hitler in 1973 and Ian Kershaw another one, in two volumes, beginning in 1998. What was your motivation for producing a third major biography?
Ullrich: Fest approached Hitler from a position of abhorrence and aversion. One central chapter of his book is titled "View of an Unperson." Kershaw was primarily interested in the societal structures that made Hitler possible, while the person himself remains somewhat pallid in his treatment. I bring the man back to the forefront. This creates not a completely new picture of Hitler, but still a more complex and contradictory one than we're familiar with.
SPIEGEL: "Hitler the Person" is the name of a chapter that you yourself describe as the key chapter in your book, which will be published this week. What was Hitler like as a person?
Ullrich: The remarkable thing about Hitler was his talent for dissimulation. His formidable abilities as an actor are often overlooked. There are only very rarely situations where we can say he was being genuine. This is what makes it so difficult to answer the question of what he was like as a person. He could be very pleasant, even to people he detested. Yet he was also incredibly cold even to people very close to him.
SPIEGEL: At one point in the book, you write of a "captivating charm." Charm is a quality not usually associated with this criminal of the century.
Ullrich: A good example of his ability to ingratiate himself is his relationship to German President Paul von Hindenburg, who initially had considerable reservations about the "Bohemian corporal," as he called Hitler. Yet within a few weeks of being appointed chancellor, Hitler managed to get Hindenburg so completely wrapped around his finger than he would sign off on whatever Hitler demanded of him. Joseph Goebbels noted frequently in his diaries that the dictator not only could chat very pleasantly among his close acquaintances, but absolutely knew how to listen as well.
SPIEGEL: On the other hand, there would sometimes be these switches into uncontrolled behavior. The seemingly smallest incident could trigger a fit of rage.
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