Hitler’s Favorite Book Ignites Feud
A mounting Internet feud has led to the expulsion of a public leader of the Holocaust revisionist movement from Amazon.com and triggered a slew of threatening e-mails against a Jewish communal official.
The trouble started soon after Allyson Rowen Taylor, associate director of the Los Angeles office of the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress), ordered one of Hitler’s favorite books, “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success,” Sept. 10 from a seller on Amazon.com’s marketplace. Only afterward did she find out that she had purchased the book from Holocaust revisionist Michael Santomauro, who runs an e-mail list called, ReportersNotebook, that is dedicated to Holocaust denial, as well as to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel material.
When Amazon banned Santomauro from its marketplace a few weeks later — due to e-mails he had sent to Taylor — he distributed her home address and e-mail account to his thousands of subscribers. Taylor was immediately hit with a barrage of threatening e-mails — one of which led her to contact the Los Angeles police: “Since you support Zionists,” the anonymous e-mailer wrote, “I’m sure you won’t mind having your family members shot and your house bulldozed.”
The Internet has been a boon for Holocaust revisionists, who have found few other mainstream outlets for their ideas and products. Earlier this year, Santomauro began selling “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success” on the Amazon marketplace, which serves as a middle man between Internet buyers and sellers.
The book, which was written by Theodor Fritsch, was first published in 1887 and became one of Hitler’s favorites. In an e-mail to supporters, Santomauro wrote that the book explained how “Judaism is a conspiracy against non-Jews. Its aim is to fulfill the covenant and gain dominion over mankind by controlling wealth.”
He reprinted 1,000 copies of a translation of Fritsch’s book, and by September, he had sold more than 100 of them. Taylor came across the book as part of her work with the AJCongress, where she said she is “in charge of monitoring anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism on high school and college campuses.”
Taylor has posted a number of online reviews of books relating to Israel and Judaism on Amazon.com. In a review of a book edited by prominent left-wing Israeli historian Tom Segev on Israeli political dissent, she wrote, “If you like lies, revisionist history, falsehood and numbers without statistics to back them up, then this is the book for you.”
The same day that Taylor bought “Riddle” from Santomauro, she posted a review of the book. In it, she wrote, “Shame on Amazon and shame on you if you purchase this trash.” Santomauro wrote to Taylor using the e-mail address he had received through the order, and asked her why she had written a bad review before reading the book. (Taylor said that she had read excerpts before purchasing it.)
Amazon prohibits sellers from having any contact with customers that is unrelated to the transaction. Taylor said that soon after, she received two more e-mails from Santomauro’s personal e-mail account, one of which, she said, “talked about Jews masturbating over body parts.” When Amazon asked for a customer review of her experience, she sent along the e-mails from Santomauro.
In an interview with The Forward, Santomauro said he sent the e-mails only after Taylor asked to join his ReportersNotebook e-mail list. Taylor countered that she did request to join his list — for monitoring purposes — but only two days after receiving the first batch of e-mails. Neither claim could be confirmed, because both Santomauro and Taylor told The Forward that they had deleted their e-mails from the relevant time period.
Amazon.com has already taken steps to avoid any possibility of a repeat occurrence, at least one involving Santomauro. Amazon spokesman Craig Berman confirmed that Amazon.com will no longer allow the Holocaust revisionist to sell books through its Internet Marketplace.
The Marketplace allows third parties to sell “new, used, refurbished and collectible items” through Amazon facilities, in exchange for a fee equal to 15 percent of the proceeds.
Santomauro violated his participation agreement with Amazon, which prohibits information about a book buyer from being misused “for sending unsolicited e-mail, harassment, invasion of privacy, or other objectionable conduct,” said Berman.
However, as a basic principle, Berman added, “Amazon believes in providing access to all reading material, however controversial or distasteful. Anything else, we believe, is censorship.”
Santomauro and various pro-Nazi groups have urged their followers to protest Amazon’s alleged censorship in cutting off sales of “The Riddle of the Jew’s Success.” Berman said he had no information on how many protest e-mails Amazon had received.
This is not the first time that his various e-mail lists have gotten crossed. He also runs a roommate-matching service on the Internet and in 2003, was swamped with complaints after his Holocaust revisionist e-mails accidentally were sent out to his real estate clients.
Amazon wrote to him Oct. 11, telling him that he was “no longer able to sell on our site,” because of “inappropriate e-mail contact that originated from your e-mail address.”
Santomauro told a different story in e-mails that he sent out to his supporters after he was banned by Amazon. He immediately wrote to his ReportersNotebook list, proclaiming that he was the target of a “professional campaign to smear booksellers that deal with the ‘Jewish Question.'” He told his readers to protest to Amazon.
Then he sent out a separate e-mail with Taylor’s home and e-mail addresses. Santomauro told The Forward that he sent out Taylor’s personal information to help journalists who wanted to write about the story.
Since then, Taylor said, she has received about 50 threatening e-mails. A friend helped Taylor track down the person who sent the most threatening e-mail, and she reported it to the domestic terrorism unit of the FBI.
While two additional neo-Nazi groups — Mein Kampf and Der Leibstandarte — have joined the campaign against Taylor, she has received no further hate e-mail following the initial flurry, Taylor reported this week.
“Apparently, they have been scared off by learning that the FBI is on the case,” Taylor said.
An FBI spokeswoman declined to comment, citing agency policy, but The Journal has learned that the FBI is actively investigating the threats against Taylor as a domestic terrorism case.
Santomauro said he saw nothing wrong with his decision to publicize her address: “For somebody who is trying to destroy my livelihood, and saying things in derogatory ways — I didn’t see what was wrong to announce her address.”
About the threatening e-mails, Santomauro said, “How do I know it’s not a campaign being fabricated in cahoots with the [Anti-Defamation League]?”
Neo-Nazi Internet magazine National Vanguard picked up Santomauro’s story and reprinted his telling of it, without including a response from Taylor. The magazine identified her as an “alleged operative of the ADL,” because of an e-mail she wrote to one of Santomauro’s supporters, saying she intended to pass along the book to the ADL. An ADL official said that the organization has had no contact with Taylor about the incident.
Taylor has written to Amazon, asking the site’s operators to display prominently the fact that sellers on the site will receive buyers’ contact information.
“Had I known I was giving all my information to Santomauro,” Taylor said, “I would have done things differently.”
Rabbi Expelled Over Sex Abuse Claims
The decision of a leading association of centrist Orthodox rabbis to expel one of its members has highlighted for some in the community the difficulties of addressing sexual abuse in the Orthodox world.
Following an investigation into allegations from several women of sexual harassment, the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) announced last week that it had expelled Rabbi Mordecai Tendler.
Tendler had “engaged in conduct inappropriate for an Orthodox rabbi” and refused to cooperate with the committee investigating the claims, the RCA said in a statement.
Tendler referred JTA to his spokesman for comment on the case, though he did say that members of his synagogue, Kehillat New Hempstead, located near Monsey, N.Y., have been “very supportive.”
Asked if he plans to remain in his pulpit, he replied, “Of course.”
Hank Sheinkopf, Tendler’s spokesman, said the RCA procedure leading to Tendler’s expulsion was “reminiscent of the Salem witch trials,” referring to fraudulent trials in colonial America.
“A decent man has been smeared, his family damaged irreparably and a community injured after a prolonged witch hunt,” Sheinkopf told JTA.
He complained that Tendler was not permitted to confront his accusers and that information on the case was leaked to the media.
The charges against Tendler include claims that over the last few years, he engaged in sexual affairs with several women, among them women who had come to him for rabbinic counseling.
Brian Leggiere, a clinical psychologist in Manhattan whose clientele is comprised largely of Orthodox abuse victims and offenders, said the case highlights the fact that the Orthodox community is beginning to “wake up” to issues of abuse among its leaders, but still has “a ways to go.”
“We imbue our leaders with a great sense of kavod, respect, and usually it’s deserved,” he said. “It’s a wonderful value, but when you have a community that over-idealizes [its leaders at times,] that’s a recipe that allows abuse to occur.”
In the Orthodox world, where marital matches, or shidduchs, are highly valued commodities, even the victims of abuse often remain silent for fear they will damage their chances to find a husband or wife.
Tendler’s expulsion reportedly went into effect immediately, though expulsion from the RCA does not necessarily entail removal from the pulpit. Some 1,000 ordained rabbis in 128 countries have membership in the RCA.
“Synagogues and institutions are entirely independent entities,” Rabbi Basil Herring, the RCA’s executive vice president, told JTA. “Therefore, it’s up to every synagogue to decide how it will wish to deal with its rabbi or its clergy or employees.”
Herring declined to comment directly on the case, as did several other RCA members complying with official RCA policy.
One Orthodox rabbi who requested anonymity said it was the first time the RCA had expelled a member following sexual abuse allegations.
The expulsion was based on protocols, instituted in April 2004 for addressing accusations of sexual impropriety against RCA members. The new protocols followed the highly publicized conviction of Rabbi Baruch Lanner, an Orthodox Union official who is serving seven years in prison for sexually abusing a student when he was principal of Hillel Yeshiva High School in New Jersey.
The Lanner case, in which allegations emerged that victims’ complaints had gone unheeded, has been seen as a watershed in the way the Orthodox community addresses sexual abuse.
Tendler’s expulsion is a particularly sensitive issue for the RCA, Orthodox insiders said, because he comes from an important family of respected rabbis. His father is the well-known bioethicist and Yeshiva University teacher Rabbi Moses Tendler. His grandfather, the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, was among the Orthodox world’s leading experts in Jewish religious law.
Orthodox movement insiders said Tendler gained respect for his work on women’s issues within Judaism, particularly his approach to helping agunot, women unable to secure divorces from their husbands.
“As painful as it has been” for the community to start coming to terms with abuse issues, “I think it’s helpful when it comes to the fore because it helps people respond,” Leggiere said. “Generally, people aren’t going to respond to a situation until you get past a level of denial.”