Masha Gessen addresses Israel and the Holocaust, sparking controversy.

The controversial essay titled “In the Shadow of the Holocaust” examined the cultural memory of the Holocaust and criticized Germany’s singular interpretation of it. The author, Gessen, argued that Germany’s rigid definition of antisemitism stifles valid debate, particularly concerning Israel. The essay faced backlash from the Böll Foundation, affiliated with Germany’s Green Party, for a passage in which Gessen compared Jewish ghettos to Gaza, using the term “ghetto” to describe Gaza. Gessen clarified that they acknowledged essential differences between the Israeli state and the Nazis. Despite the controversy, Gessen believes it is necessary to make upsetting comparisons to highlight important political and moral issues. The interview further discusses the irony of the Hannah Arendt Prize, the singularity of the Holocaust, and the impact of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s definition of antisemitism. Gessen expresses concern about the chilling effect of the definition, particularly in Germany, and predicts its potential impact in the United States.

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