Bang in the middle of another long and crazed week for British politics, I reflected that last Wednesday 18 July 2018, was the 71st anniversary of when British Mandate troops scuppered the Jewish refugee ship, SS Exodus 1947 at Haifa Port, eventually transporting its desperate 4,500 illegal immigrant passengers back to two camps in newly liberated Nazi Germany.
The link I have used about the Exodus is from the Jewish Virtual Library but anyone researching what happened is spoilt for choice as it remains among the most notorious post-Holocaust incidents in 20th century Jewish history.
I mention it against the unravelling of the present-day Labour Party as the SS Exodus 1947 incident occurred largely due to the policies of figures like the-then Labour Party Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin. Arguments about his vicious antisemitic intent as well as that of his closest political friends and most senior civil servants continue unabated, even now.
Whatever his true nature, current evolving events suggest that although Bevin died 67 years ago, his legacy appears stronger than those of the pro-Israel Wilson government that came after him. I now wonder why so many of us British Jews ever felt the Labour Party was our natural political home.
Bevin and co were responsible for further outrages in British Mandate Palestine and the Atlit Illegal Immigration Detention Camp, about 12 miles from Haifa is another stain on their record. I happened to visit Atlit, an Israeli national heritage site, coincidentally last week and like so many others was struck by its terrifying similarity to a Nazi concentration camp.
This is unsurprising as such camps were first designed and constructed by the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War. In the event, the new Jewish illegal immigrants were treated not unkindly. But like their Exodus counterparts, those incarcerated at Atlit were horror-struck by what happened on their arrival:
They saw an area surrounded by double layers of barbed-wire, monitored by watch towers and manned by patrol guards. The sexes were separated before being stripped, deloused, disinfected and made to shower.
These stories should be told more often and with stern authority. So I suggest that the next official British Royal visitor to Israel is invited to see both Atlit and the memorial to the SS Exodus 1947 so they learn about the atrocities that the British continued to heap upon Holocaust survivors – in their own home – even postwar.
Some hours after returning from Atlit I stumbled on the story of Jan Karski, a non-Jew who is credited with first telling the Allies about WWII atrocities in German Nazi-occupied Poland. But he was not believed.
Even Felix Frankfurter, a US Jewish Justice of the US Supreme Court is said to have remarked of Karski: ‘I did not say this young man is lying. I said I am unable to believe him”.
So, why should anyone believe a Jewish Labour MP when she claims that her party leader is antisemitic and a racist? Why not instead support a fellow Jewish Labour MP and shadow minister who has advised Jewish voters in his Leeds North East constituency “to be a little less hysterical and angry” about the antisemitism dispute that’s splitting the party asunder?
Indeed, it seems Mr Hamilton may find support from Facebook chief, Mark Zuckerberg who has infuriated a wide range of people for suggesting Holocaust denial should be allowed on his site because it could be unintentional!
This, from a man who was last year pictured cradling his infant daughter as she sipped from a family heirloom Kiddush cup! Surely both Zuckerberg and Hamilton have viewed Schindler’s List with its haunting opening scene of Sabbath Kiddush being recited – the astutely recreated symbol of a vanished Jewish world that will never be regained.
But why should they care? Self-interest surely comes first.
So I close here, not with the heavy sense of memorial that always lingers after visiting carefully tended cemeteries and places like Atlit.
Instead, I urge you to ponder what else happened in Israel last week – the passing of the contentious Nation State Law – and the arrest of a peaceable rabbi in an outrageous dawn raid.
The two are linked and I hope desperately that the new law will be amended if not rescinded by a more moderate, sensible government. But I’ve already been told that I hope in vain.
© Natalie Wood (25 July 2018)