A reminder, not a debasement

By Nigel Lithman, February 21, 2014

Prior to appearing on the front page of the JC last week, I had only appeared in it once before. There had been a photo of me inelegantly lying spread-eagled, hurtling towards the Earth and what I had begun to assume was my inevitable death.

In spite of being strapped to a parachute and a large Israeli, my foray into skydiving made me feel, to say the least, precarious, but the purpose behind it, fundraising for the charity Kamah, a community for special needs kids and adults in northern Israel, worthwhile.

The plane took off near Zichron Yaakov, where we have a house, purchased on the day Arik Sharon first entered a coma eight years ago. Unfortunately, the shekel dived on that day with the same speed I did some years later.

Last week, I featured on the front page — vilified alongside what I regard as a rogues’ gallery of the worst description, those that have compared the behaviour of Israeli soldiers with that of the SS and see the Israeli government as the fourth Reich.

I have no argument with the JC seeking to expose them. In that, they have my full support. But that anyone should think I was justly placed there among them could have no familiarity with how I have spent my life — as a proud and committed Jew, active in both synagogue and communal affairs, always the first to stand up and speak out on their behalf.

I was a post-war baby, brought up in a proudly Jewish middle-class home. Father and grandfather were accomplished medics. My father had fought the Nazis as a flight lieutenant in the air force and I was given the middle name, Mordechai, to ensure I never forgot my Jewish roots.

My immediate ancestors were president and chairman of the shul and the Zionist Society. That meant hosting fund-raising events in our home. Harrowing films would be shown of the Americans entering Belsen. At the age of six, I helped hand out tea and strudel and was available for those ladies that had the urge to squeeze the cheeks of a little boy while muttering something approving in Yiddish.

My Zionist connection was strengthened by the fact that a forebear, Naphtali Herz Imber (my mother’s maiden name), had written the poem Hatikvah. I remember my parents leaving us on Day Two to volunteer in the Six-Day War; and my father was subsequently awarded the Jerusalem Medal for his work in running the Hadassah Hospital operating theatre at the time. The need to support and nurture the Jewish state through its formative years was deeply ingrained in me as its very survival ensured our own.

Such is my background and the strong influences on my life. Those that know me know that my love of Judaism and of Israel define me, which is why last week’s article caused so much hurt. I would never demean the blessed memory of the six million.

The resolve never to lie down in the face of what is wrong has stayed with me and equipped me in a separate struggle to ensure the survival of the criminal bar.

The principles that govern the rule of law are vital in a democracy, they are principles that the Jewish people have fought to maintain throughout the world and throughout time.

If the guilty cannot be convicted nor those that may be innocent rightly acquitted, due to the lack of funding of able representation, we have reached a sad and dangerous time.

My point related to institutional deceit such as that of the Russian government hiding its policies on human rights behind its showcasing the Winter Olympics: a government cannot showcase to the world that it has a legal system to be envied, while behind the scenes dismantling legal aid, an essential part of it.

My comparison to the deceit used to hide the atrocities committed at Theresienstadt was of course not proportionate — indeed I stated it was melodramatic — but such a reference to the attempt to hide the worst crimes in humanity committed there should be seen as an acknowledgment and reminder of the Holocaust, not one which denies or debases it.

Nigel Lithman, QC, is chair of the Criminal Bar Association and co-chairman of Highgate Synagogue

Last updated: 1:26pm, February 21 2014