Holocaust Memorial Day abuse

Israel haters have much to learn from Holocaust Memorial Day

What happened to remembering?
Jeremy Havardi
On 28 January 2013 08:54

There is a new form of demented bigotry being paraded by some of Israel's most venomous detractors. We can call it Holocaust Day abuse. It consists of insulting the Jewish victims of Nazi genocide by politicising the day set aside to honour their memory. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, while most of us remembered the victims of the worst crime in history, these detractors were busy making political capital out of the commemoration.

This year, Liberal Democrat MP David Ward caused outrage with remarks posted on his blog. He expressed sadness that the Jews, "who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust" could "within a few years of liberation" go on to inflict "atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza". His belief in collective responsibility, blaming 'Jews' for Israel's actions, has sparked widespread anger.

He is not the only political figure to express such hateful sentiments. Lee Jasper, a race relations activist and now a candidate for the Respect party, exploited the imminent commemoration to launch a spiteful attack of his own. Israel, he declared, had "failed to learn the lessons of its own tragic history having evolved into a racist oppressor". He added: "Israel has...allowed itself to turn into the very thing that it despises the most, a political ideology that seeks to oppress people on the basis of race or religion."

They are not alone in this form of modern day desecration. For several years, the Muslim Council of Britain boycotted Holocaust Memorial Day, citing the failure to remember other purported victims of genocide. In particular, it said that the commemoration excluded and ignored “the ongoing genocide and violation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories”. Yesterday, even the Sunday Times was keen to shirk sensitivity.

Of course, such comparisons of Nazi genocide and Israeli behaviour are as intellectually inept as they are morally offensive. Two thirds of European Jewry was exterminated by the Nazis and their collaborationist allies between 1939 and 1945. But since 1948, the Palestinian population has grown in numbers many times over in all the areas where they have lived. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the Palestinian population in the West Bank went up by over 250 percent from 1970 to 2005. In 1970 there were an estimated 360,000 Palestinians in Gaza; by 2005, this figure had risen to nearly 1.4 million.

Clearly if the Israelis were aiming to replicate Nazi behaviour, they have failed rather dismally. The Palestinians have quite obviously not been subjected to any process of organised, systematic extermination.

Nor are measures like the security wall or the checkpoints a form of religious or racial prejudice. If they were, then Israel would surely have imposed them against its own Arab population. Plainly speaking, they are predicated on security and the prevention of terrorist outrages.

The Holocaust comparison represents the ultimate trivialising of evil by taking the most heinous of crimes and cheapening it by an absurd analogy.

The words are offensive enough but they are nothing new. The Israel-Nazi analogy has been a staple of radical left thinking for several decades now. What gives this sentiment an insidious twist is that it is now timed to rub maximum salt into Jewish wounds. For in propagating their hateful anti-Zionist agenda on Holocaust Day, both Ward and Jasper have exploited a sacred moment for global Jewry.

Their hateful rhetoric represents a verbal hand grenade tossed capriciously into the Jewish community. It is designed to question whether the Jews have any right to uninterrupted grief on such a solemn occasion. Instead they must use this day to pay homage to mankind, to show remorse and contrition for their 'crimes', to be educated so that they learn from their tragic history. Note that it is the victims who have most to learn, not the perpetrators, collaborators or appeasers.

As Howard Jacobson so famously pointed out, this leads to the Jews being “doubly damned”, both to suffer the Holocaust and the “moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors”. By becoming Zionists and having the cheek to demand self-determination, then refusing to surrender their state to aggression, they lost the chance to claim the mantle of victimhood.

Now it is the Palestinians who deserve sympathy and attention on Holocaust Memorial Day, so this ludicrous and irrational argument goes. It is a maddening and wholly immoral perversion of memory.

It is also really hard to imagine such crass insensitivity being displayed towards other victims of genocide and suffering. One need only imagine the outrage if, on the  International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade, an MP talked about how black Africans were now behaving like murderous slave traders. Imagine the outcry if he went on to castigate black people for failing to learn the lessons of slavery and racism, and all because he wanted to score cheap political points. Such outrageous, insensitive and bigoted sentiments would be universally decried, and rightly so.

But then the war against Israel has always brought out the worst in its perpetrators. By heaping opprobrium on the Jewish state, by seeking to turn it into the ultimate pariah state, they are falling prey to the worst forms of bigotry and prejudice. Specifically, their comparison of Israeli policy to the Nazis is considered racist by the European Forum on anti-Semitism.

What the Holocaust teaches us is that anti-Semitism, left unchecked, brings humanity to the lowest depths imaginable. It is therefore the Israel haters, more than anyone, who need to learn its lessons. 

Jeremy Havardi is a journalist and the author of two books, Falling to Pieces, and The Greatest Briton

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