By Jenni Frazer
January 29, 2013
Let us unpick the events of the week so far. On Sunday, it was Holocaust Memorial Day: a yearly event initiated by the British government to mark, in line with many other countries, the attempted complete annihilation of a people. It is right and proper that HMD is used as an educational tool to mark other genocides. It is not right and proper to make a moral equivalence between what happened to the Jews between 1933 and 1945, and what is happening today in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank.
On Holocaust Memorial Day the editors at the Sunday Times chose to publish two curiosities: a peculiar magazine story about David Irving, the Holocaust denier, and the tours he is running in concentration camps; and the by-now bizarre cartoon from Gerald Scarfe, featuring a bloodthirsty Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall and using murdered Palestinians for its cement.
Scarfe himself has said he very much regretted the timing of the publication, claiming he did not know that it was HMD. But even if it had not been the anniversary, the cartoon was not just offensive - but missed the point in its comment on the Israeli elections. Netanyahu did not win an overwhelming victory and nor did the anti-peace camp forces in Israel.
Leaving aside the question of whether or not the cartoon was antisemitic, I wonder at the initial response of the Sunday Times editors who chose to defend Scarfe by pointing to the Irving story. This is as if to say, oh, we were critical of Israel but here's another piece where we were nice about Jews. So that's all right, then.
Meanwhile, in another part of the forest, the LibDem MP David Ward is either too stupid or too malicious to understand the impact of his remarks about "the Jews" who had failed to learn the lessons of history. Buying in completely to this moral equivalence argument which has now become the belief of choice for the chatterati, Ward drew a comparison with what had happened in Europe to what he believed was currently being perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians. Not only did he not appear to understand the implications of what he had said, only hours after signing the HMD Book of Remembrance, he continued to maintain his argument.
On Sunday night the BBC screened a quietly powerful documentary to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, a film made by Lisa Bryer, producer of The Last King of Scotland, about her aunt, Henia. Henia was the perfect illustration of a Holocaust survivor. If there was a ghetto or a concentration camp or a death march, Henia had been there, survivng in ways even she did not know how. And yet, despite all the truly terrible experiences Henia had undergone, even she was shocked and horrified at what she saw at the gates of Bergen Belsen: the rotting piles of decomposing bodies, the mountain of corpses.
If David Ward or Gerald Scarfe could point to a parallel horror in Israel, their criticism might - just might - have a kernel of legitimacy. But of course they cannot; and to try to compare such experiences, or tot up death numbers as Jonathan Dimbleby did at the weekend, is futile.
What is most distressing about this week's events is the growing acceptance of questions such as "Does Israel deserve a future?" as was voiced on the BBC's Any Questions, and nobody even blinks. The essence of HMD is being distorted and manipulated and we must genuinely wonder about our place in this country.
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