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Saturday, 23 February 2013

Jews Should Ignore Holocaust Memorial Day

If Holocaust Memorial Day is good for anything, it’s to demonstrate how hard it  is simply being Jewish. The twenty-four hours of global commemoration and solemn reflection  established by the United Nations only eight years ago, was soon snatched up by Jew haters everywhere.

This is unsurprising to anyone knowing how terms  adopted to explain the Jewish experience have  become woefully debased through overuse and abuse. Let’s look at some of them:

‘Holocaust’ (the mass murder of Jews under the German Nazi regime during the period 1941–45) and ‘Diaspora’ (the dispersion of the Jews beyond Israel). The word  ‘Genocide’ (the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group) is a little trickier to discuss. Raphael.LemkinIt was coined barely 65 years ago by  Polish-born Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, who once remarked during an interview: "I became interested in genocide because it happened so many times. First to the Armenians, then after the Armenians, Hitler took action.”

There’s been a whiff of unpleasantness associated with Holocaust Day  ever since its inception and this year’s  row was sparked by the gratuitously nasty cartoon produced by The Sunday Times’s veteran cartoonist, Gerald Scarfe. Gerald.Scarfe.CartoonHe managed, no matter a thousand hot denials, to conflate the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process with the ancient anti-Jewish blood libel. Moreover, the picture was published on Holocaust Day and the furore forced the artist to issue the following apology on his own website:

“First of all I am not, and never have been, antisemitic. The Sunday Times has given me the freedom of speech over the last 46 years to criticise world leaders for what I see as their wrong-doings. This drawing was a criticism of Netanyahu, and not of the Jewish people: there was no slight whatsoever intended against them. I was, however, stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust Day, and I apologise for the very unfortunate timing.”

Gerald.Scarfe.Jane.AsherI am sure Scarfe is not anti-Jewish. The milieu he and his wife, the actress, Jane Asher inhabit is concerned wholly with artistic integrity. The race and faith of those in it becomes important only when it affects any work they produce.

But I’m not sure he would have apologised so swiftly if he had not received an irate response from a fellow passenger on a holiday cruise soon after publication. The Jewish Chronicle reported:

Gerald Stecker, a bridge director on cruise ships, happened to be on board Mr Scarfe's round-the-world liner.

“When Mr Stecker discovered the ‘malicious cartoon’ he decided to ring Mr Scarfe's cabin.

"’I told him how disgusted I was and [asked] can he give reasons for producing it,’ Mr Stecker said … ‘He was dumbstruck and apologised to me’.

“Mr Stecker also confronted the veteran cartoonist in person. ‘I asked if he would give a public apology upon his return to the UK’ … He agreed."

However, while I am not convinced that everyone at  the S.T. was ignorant of their bad timing, libel law forces me to take their insistence at face value. I am also mindful that the newspaper’s proprietor, Rupert Murdoch was among the first to apologise openly for the mess. Again,  while I point out that he and his publications are largely pro-Israel, I must consider that he does not want to lose more friends while News Corporation is beset by other scandal.

The nasty affair produced a familiar slew of well-known Jewish and gentile figures leaping to defend the cartoon and its creator while spouting the usual anti-Israel rhetoric. I hate the current Israel Government West Bank settlements’ policy but all level-headed people know the security barrier was erected to stop terrorists  murdering both Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel. It is not there to keep law-abiding citizens of the Palestinian Authority out of Israel. As Daniel Taub, Israel’s present Ambassador to Britain said:

“Israelis have a longstanding commitment to free speech and a high threshold for tolerating strong and even provocative criticism. This cartoon, however, bears no relation whatsoever to legitimate political comment  …. The use of vicious motifs echoing those used to demonize Jews in the past is particularly shocking and hurtful on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but the crude and shallow hatred of this cartoon should render it totally unacceptable on any day of the year.”

Sadly a good number of ‘ordinary’ Jewish people, including Israeli citizens, did not view the cartoon as harmful. I reminded someone that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not relish a view of himself building a wall, squeezing Palestinian bodies between the bricks and using their blood as cement. Why else ask Knesset Speaker,  Reuven Rivlin to write to his U.K. counterpart, John Bercow (coincidentally a fellow Jew)   to express "extreme outrage”?

The familiar Palestinian advocates included The Guardian’s political cartoonist, Steve Bell, who a while earlier had produced a picture showing Netanyahu as a puppet master controlling British Foreign Secretary, William Hague and former Premier Tony Blair. I would  have been quite disappointed if he had not started a BBC Radio 4 Today debate with The J. C. Editor, Stephen Pollard by accusing Israel of ‘ethnic cleansing’, a charge so transparently false it was no wonder that Pollard did not respond.

But these dreadful moments also produce the best in some people, so non-Jewish friends  of the Jewish community and Israel emerged making their feelings felt on Facebook, their own websites and in protest letters to The Sunday Times. What’s more, they got results:

Here’s respected Manchester-based writer Cathy Bryant in a letter to The S.T. :

One doesn't have to be Jewish to find the cartoon published on Holocaust Memorial Day abhorrent. Was it really too much to ask that for one day you respect the State of Israel's inhabitants, even if you disagree with some of its alleged policies?”

She was joined, inter alia, by Derek Hopper who blogged of the deeply entrenched antisemitism still current in parts of Ireland. He concluded:

“… the day I meet a supporter of Palestine who can discuss in detail various global conflicts and has taken a side in each one giving moral and historical reasons for doing so, I will take their opinions on Israel/Palestine at face value. Until that day I will assume that the shrill scrutiny they subject Israel to represents a primitive obsession with Jews, one that exists subconsciously in the fabric of our civilisation, the vestigial but ever-present remains of over a thousand years’ worth of European Jew-hatred.”

The S.T.’s Acting Editor,  Martin Ivens, was forced to apologise and by the Thursday following the caricature’s appearance, people like Ms Bryant received the following message (my excerpts):

“[ … The] publication was a terrible mistake. The timing – on Holocaust Memorial Day - was inexcusable. The associations on this occasion were grotesque. As someone who understands the history and iconography in this context, I appreciate fully why publication has caused such offence and I apologise unreservedly for my part in that.

“I sought an urgent meeting with leading members of the Jewish community, …  Mick Davis, Chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, accepted my apology on behalf of the group and told the press afterwards that the community “now looks forward to constructively moving on from this affair”.

Then a full, public apology was published on Sunday 03 February. All very fine, but the damage was done and even when the bruise fades, the memory will linger.

So before closing the curtain on the H.M.D. show for 2013, let’s survey the mixed bag it produced:

*   Liberal Democrat MP David Ward was censured by his party for comparing the Israeli Government to the Nazis, and accusing   Jews of inflicting “daily atrocities” on the Palestinians.

* Gareth Smith, a Huddersfield Town F.C. supporter has been banned from attending all football matches in England for the next three years after making a Nazi salute during a Championship game in December 2012. Meanwhile in Egypt, Soccer referee Nasser Sadeq Abdel Naby urged a boycott of Israel saying he hoped to “shake UEFA and FIFA, so that Israel can never again organise a World Cup or any other championship”.

* Germany marked the 80th anniversary of Hitler’s rise to power with a talk from German-Israeli author, Berlin resident and Holocaust survivor Inge Deutschkron at the Reichstag. Inge.DeutschkronA couple of days later, Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi visited Berlin and dismissed criticism of his  comments referring to Jews as "the descendants of apes and pigs". He said his remarks were directed at Israeli attacks on Palestinians. But German Chancellor  Angela Merkel, who had just attended an annual parliamentary memorial event for Holocaust victims, said she had brought up the issue during her meeting with Morsi.

There were several brighter stories but most material I’ve read supports the report produced by Israeli Information and Diaspora Minister Yuli Edelstein, pointing to a sharp rise in verbal and physical attacks against Jews, particularly in Western Europe.

So I conclude by repeating the advice offered elsewhere: The emerging pattern is blatantly obvious and the worldwide Jewish community would be better avoiding official Holocaust Day activities, which could become the preserve of those memorialising non-Jewish victims. Instead, international Jewry could all mark Israel’s springtime Yom Ha Shoa, which falls eight days before Israeli Independence Day.

Mark.UlyseasThis piece first appeared  in the March 2013 edition of Live Encounters magazine (http://liveencounters.net/?p=2711) edited by Mark Ulyseas, a faithful supporter of Israel and all matters Jewish.

 

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