Aharony, Michal. “Nihilism and Antisemitism: The Reception of Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night in Israel.” Rethinking History 19.1 (2015): 111-32.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline is considered one of the most pro-Nazi, antisemitic writers in Europe. In 1994, an intense controversy arose in Israel after the decision to translate into Hebrew and publish his novel, Journey to the End of the Night. The heated debate soon went beyond the question of the book’s publication. This essay analyzes Céline’s reception in Israel, and more specifically, the controversy that erupted over the translation of Journey. It argues that while this debate was relatively minor in the context of the heated polemics on the Holocaust, it nevertheless has significant implications on both contemporary public discourse on the Holocaust and the limits of political criticism in Israel. Israeli intellectual discourse is framed, to a large extent, I contend, within the borders of Auschwitz, a metaphor for the borders of consciousness of many Jewish-Israelis, from both the left and the right. To this day, the trauma of the Holocaust is still present in Israeli society in a way that determines what is legitimate to read, discuss, and disagree with. Furthermore, by examining the different voices in this controversy, I demonstrate how the Israeli ‘Céline affair’ in the mid-1990s moves us away from the overstated positions of the major debates, and sheds new light on the specter of the Holocaust in Israel in seemingly non-political discussions of culture, art, and leisure. The political underpinnings of the Céline controversy, I conclude, are not clear or clear cut, and are not defined by the traditional political camps in Israel. The implication is that public Holocaust debates represent an autonomous field, subordinated to no political party dictates, and yet are still political. The public debate that followed the translation of Journey serves as a watershed. It shows us how at the end of every political–cultural divide in Israeli society, we arrive at ‘Auschwitz’ as a metaphor for the existential threat.