An unintended consequence of the election is to derail three bills that affect the Jewish community

What happens now to the Holocaust Memorial Bill?


A computer simulation of the intended Holocaust Memorial

June 03, 2024 13:31

Whether you are loving or loathing the claims and counter-claims of the political parties as they vie for your vote, you may not be aware of the potential cost to Jewish concerns of the general election.

By calling it earlier than everyone expected, Rishi Sunak ensured that several Bills affecting the community failed to complete the legislative process and had to be summarily abandoned. Some may be re-introduced by the next government, but others will be lost forever.

One of them was the Holocaust Memorial Bill. The proposal to build a memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, alongside the House of Commons, was made back in 2015 when David Cameron was Prime Minister and has been supported by his successors. However, it hit a problem recently when it was discovered that there were long-forgotten planning restrictions that prevented building it in that area. The Bill was designed to overturn these and allow it to proceed apace.

For some, the Bill’s demise is deeply upsetting and means yet more delays to a project that is several years old and spiralling in costs. They feel that Britain lags behind many European countries in not having a major memorial to the six million.

Positioning it next to Parliament would be a powerful reminder to MPs on the dangers of what happens if one group of people are seen to be less equal than everyone else.

But others - including myself - will be relieved the Bill came to a halt. We certainly want to remember the Holocaust, both the victims and the lessons arising. But the location is wrong: it is too London-centric, while it also duplicates the Holocaust wing of the Imperial War Museum. It would be far better to spend the £150 million on education in schools through the country or funding visits to Auschwitz, targeting the next generation and reaching a much greater audience.

Ignorant slogans labelling the Israeli government as Nazis will not be combatted by a static building in central London but by people understanding what genocide actually means.

Meanwhile, the Bill to recognise Palestine as a state, which had been introduced by the Liberal Democrats, also ran out of time. This might have received support across all parties and would have followed similar decisions by other European governments.

Here, there is likely to be greater consensus, with many Jews relieved it fell. It smacks of gesture politics and belongs to an alternative universe that is removed from reality.

It is certainly worthwhile working towards the creation of a democratic Palestinian state that is committed to peace and to co-existing alongside the State of Israel, but to pretend it already exists is simply daft.

More importantly, it is a distraction from the much harder work of achieving that goal. It is so much easier to assume it is has been done through an Act of Parliament, say “job done” and walk away, whereas tough talking and hands-on engagement is what is needed.

In a clip of a Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, addressing constituents in Ashton-under-Lyne, she is seen to declare: “If Labour gets into power we will recognise Palestine”. She does not set a date, or under what conditions, but the intention is clear.

Less certain is the fate of the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill, more commonly known as the anti-BDS Bill, referring to the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions campaign. The Bill sought to prevent public bodies - such as local councils - from introducing their own boycotts against Israeli goods, arguing that such behaviour singles-out Israel and is inherently antisemitic.

It was a government Bill that had passed the Commons, but had not yet been voted on by the Lords. It was opposed by Labour, who argued that it limited basic freedoms. If, as expected, Labour comes to power, the Bill’s reappearance is doubtful, leaving the BDS campaign to continue unhindered.

The unintended consequence of dissolving Parliament so early has been to derail the Holocaust memorial, postpone recognition of a Palestinian state and fail to curtail the BDS campaign.

Jonathan Romain is rabbi of Maidenhead Synagogue

June 03, 2024 13:31

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