There is a major flaw in permitting non-Jews and the Israel Lobby to define key aspects of Jewish identity. Especially when those controlling the process either are ignorant of Jewish history or exploit it for political advantage. Take, for example, the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. The Likudists in Israel and in the Diaspora have twisted the accepted definition of anti-Semitism so that it now includes virtually any criticism of Israel. As for the Holocaust it is, in this view, the sole property of the Jewish people. And our victimhood has assumed saintly status, which may neither be questioned or criticized.
For example, anyone who points out that the pre-State Yishuv leadership, including David Ben Gurion, adopted a severely compromised moral position regarding saving the Jews of Europe during the Holocaust. And if you, God forbid, point out there were high-level Nazi leaders who, like Ben Gurion, saw for a time an answer to the Jewish Question in expelling European Jews to Palestine–well, then the sky and the wrath of the Lobby will fall upon you.
Over the past few months, as Jeremy Corbyn has assumed leadership of the British Labour Party and triumphed in a second leadership battle last week, the UK Israel Lobby and disgruntled establishment figures in the Party have mounted a rearguard action seeking to undermine him by accusing him of being insufficiently deferential to the interests of Israel. Indeed, they’ve gone further and accused him of supporting Islamist groups like Hezbollah or even being a closet anti-Semite.
These nigglers know that they can’t mount a direct assault on Corbyn, who has already won two decisive victories in leadership battles, so they pick and choose among various key Corbyn supporters who display the temerity to question the political line of the Lobby. Such happened earlier today to a leader of the Momentum faction, which offers key support to Corbyn, Jackie Walker. It’s rather shocking to discover, in light of the vicious attack against her, that she is, in fact, Jewish. It’s not at all surprising that the media outlet which ginned up the latest anti-Corbyn outrage is none other than the Telegraph, otherwise known as Torygraph.
At a Party conference on anti-Semitism, she offered the following observations:
““I came in here … and I was looking for information and I still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with … [shouting from audience] and in terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced Holocaust … [shouting from audience] in practice, it’s not actually circulated and advertised as such.”
I’m not at all surprised that Walker is dissatisfied with the definitions of anti-Semitism offered by Israel advocates since they are attempts to expand the traditional definition of the term which is confined to hatred of Jews or discrimination of Jews as a religion or ethnic group. There is no reference at all to Israel in conventional definitions, unless someone derogates Israel referring to it solely in a disparaging Jewish context.
It’s worth quoting from the actual purpose of the UK Holocaust Memorial Day as stated in the official website:
- recognise that the Holocaust was a tragically defining episode of the 20th Century, a crisis for European civilisation and a universal catastrophe for humanity
- provide a national mark of respect for all victims of Nazi persecution and demonstrate understanding with all those who still suffer its consequences
- raise awareness and understanding of the events of the Holocaust as a continuing issue of fundamental importance for all humanity
- ensure that the horrendous crimes, racism and victimisation committed during the Holocaust are neither forgotten nor repeated, whether in Europe or elsewhere in the world
- restate the continuing need for vigilance in light of the troubling repetition of human tragedies in the world today
- reflect on more recent atrocities that raise similar issues
- provide a national focus for educating subsequent generations about the Holocaust and the continued relevance of the lessons that are learnt from it
- provide an opportunity to examine our nation’s past and learn for the future
- promote a democratic and tolerant society, free of the evils of prejudice, racism and other forms of bigotry
- support the view that all citizens – without distinction – should participate freely and fully in the economic, social and public life of the nation
- highlight the values of a tolerant and diverse society based upon the notions of universal dignity and equal rights and responsibilities for all its citizens
- assert a continuing commitment to oppose racism, antisemitism, victimisation and genocide
- support our shared aspirations with both our European partners and the wider international community centred on the ideals of peace, justice and community for all
Note, that there isn’t a single reference to “Israel” nor even a reference to Jews or Judaism. Clearly, those who authored this statement and conceived of transforming Holocaust Memorial Day into a UK national holiday saw the best way to do that as presenting the Holocaust as a crime not just against Jews, but all of humanity. They wisely understood that presenting it solely as a symbol of Jewish victimhood would have less appeal to the British populace.
What’s interesting regarding this outburst is that all of a sudden, when it becomes useful, Holocaust Memorial Day relapses into a day owned by Jews. What happened to the universality theme espoused above? It was dropped quicker than a hot potato.
Here is some of the meretricious nonsense offered by Jeremy Newmark, chairman of the Board of Deputies in criticism of Walker:
“I am appalled that somebody who has already caused great hurt and pain to so many Jewish people by promoting an anti-Semitic myth would come to a training session designed to help party activists address anti-Semitism and use the occasion to challenge the legitimacy of the training itself,” he said.
“To denigrate security provision at Jewish schools, make false claims about the universality of National Holocaust Memorial Day and to challenge recognised definitions of anti-Semitism is provocative, offensive and a stark example of the problem facing the Labour Party today.
“As vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker has consistently failed to demonstrate any sensitivity to the impact of her words and actions upon the Jewish community. She must now consider her position, show some sensitivity and contrition or resign.”
According to the media coverage of the event, Walker didn’t question the training itself. She questioned the definition of anti-Semitism it offered. And she certainly wasn’t questioning the “universality” of Holocaust Memorial Day. In fact, just the opposite: she was asking why the Day had been shorn of its universality.
But what Newmark is really arguing is that the Day should be recognized universally as the property of Jews, not that non-Jewish victims (of whom there were many millions) should be recognized as victims. What about the gays, Communists, disabled people, and Gypsies who were “offered” the Final Solution? Have you forgotten them, Mr. Newmark?
Apparently, another major irritant for the Israel Lobby is that Walker has compared the slave trade to genocide by calling it an “African holocaust.” In truth, given the millions of Africans who were enslaved or died on their path to the New World, and the role which European powers played in maintaining it, there is ample justification to label this genocide. Just because slave traders didn’t set up crematoria and burn their chattel alive doesn’t mean the term doesn’t apply.
In truth, this mock horror at the supposed anti-Semitism of the new Labour Party is a sham. It is a useful cudgel the Israel Lobby and a largely Tory-aligned UK Jewish community can wield against a Party which threatens to adopt a more even-handed approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Corbyn’s critics are either Tories, or old Labour who hate the fact that their Party has turned from its Blairite path.
There are Jewish Labour Party supporters who have risen to defend Walker here. For a more sympathetic account of Jackie Walker and her background including an interview with her, read this. H/t to OffCentreNews.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.