Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, when we remember the horrors inflicted upon the Jewish people by the Nazis and their collaborators, resulting in an estimated six million deaths. There have been many authorative accounts of this period. See here for a comprehensive bibliography of the subject. Some of the most affecting detail come from the survivors of the concentration camps. These details are best captured in Shoah (Holocaust) the monumental nine-hour documentary on the Holocaust. If you really want to get some kind of understanding of what the survivors and victims endured watch at least some of this film.
In the lead up to today there has been a great deal of controversy over the remarks of David Ward Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East, in which he acknowledged the horror of the Holocaust and then continued with a criticism of the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. Here are the remarks he made.
“Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
The MP has since issued an apology for his use of language, namely the generalisation in the usage of ‘the Jews’ in reference to the Israeli state treatment of the Palestinians, which the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racisim and Xenephobia (EUMC) has classed as a form of Antisemitism , but stood by his condemnation of Israeli policy against the Palestinians, after coming under severe attack from within his own party and without. Here is a selection of some of the criticism he has received for these remarks.
An Israeli embassy spokesman said on Sunday” ‘David Ward’s comments show a troubling ignorance of the brutal campaign of terrorist attacks waged against Israeli children, women and men by Palestinian terrorist groups, and of the extraordinary efforts made by Israel to protect its citizens in an effective and humane manner.
“His decision to make his remarks in the context of Holocaust Memorial Day, and his reference to Auschwitz concentration camp, shows a shocking insensitivity to the feelings of both Holocaust survivors and Israeli victims of terrorism.’
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “I am deeply saddened that at this sombre time, when we remember those who were murdered by the Nazis, Mr Ward has deliberately abused the memory of the Holocaust causing deep pain and offence – these comments are sickening and unacceptable and have no place in British politics.”
First let’s have a look at his comments. Within those comments he immediately makes clear his knowledge on and understanding of what the Holocaust was and still means today. He then uses the phrasing “the Jews”, this is a generalisation of an entire people and smacks of the language that real Anti-Semites use in their demonization of the Jewish people, and he apologised for it.
David Ward referred to “the Jews….inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza”. Jewish survivors of the hell of the concentration camp left for many parts of the world, not just for Palestine. All those who did leave for Palestine though must recognise that this had a direct impact on the Palestinians then and today especially in the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the resulting Nakba (catastrophe) which saw up to 750,000 Palestinians ethnically cleansed from their land by the nascent Israeli military forces under the command of the the Zionist leadership headed by David Ben-Gurion. These are just documented historical facts detailed by both Israeli and Palestinian historians. See: Ilan Pappé, Benny Morris, Nur Masalha.
Almost all Israeli Jewish citizens are mandated to serve in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), a force that created the conditions for the occupation following the Israeli victory in the Six-Day-War in 1967, and today maintains the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and blockade of Gaza. The Israeli elite have been very clever in this, by spreading responsibility to all society for the occupation they make it a part of the fabric of Israeli society and a criticism of it is a criticism of you, your family and your nation.
Still many within Israel’s Jewish demographic and Jews who live in other countries do criticise the continuation of the occupation and lack of a peace settlement with the Palestinians. These include some Holocaust survivors who claim to have learnt the very lessons that David Ward identified through his remarks. It is not about comparing the Nazi Holocaust of the Jewish people with Israeli ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, as the Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy states here in response to student questions in Dundee from 5:20 onwards, Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is bad enough that the “reality is so terrible” without conflating it to the Final Solution, but understanding that any attack on any people by another is unacceptable.
Then we come to the timing of Mr Ward’s remarks. Should Israel’s widely-condemned treatment of the Palestinians be spared on Holocaust Memorial Day or in the run-up to it? I think no. Although Mr Ward’s language showed some ignorance of who was exactly responsible for the Nakba and the continuing degrading position of the Palestinian people, he was right to speak up and should continue to do so. His remarks on Israeli policy are of no controversy whatsoever. The UN, many national governments and human rights groups continue to criticise Israel for its policies concerning the Palestinians and have since 1967 called for the implementation of the two-state solution. Despite efforts by leaders and their followers who are blindly pro-Israel and will not accept any criticism of the country’s policies, the world citizenry is with the Palestinians and pressure will continue to increase on Israel to become the country it should be- one that upholds human rights, pushes them forward and works with its neighbours. This can only happen with a just and fair settlement with the Palestinian people.
By Jonathan Woodrow Martin