I’m neither insulted nor offended by Sir Keir’s Berlin video

The real danger doesn’t lie in what might have been a solecism by the Labour leader. It is, rather, in those who seek to maximise differences and who revel in vituperation

July 21, 2022 14:05

Last week the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, took a trip to Berlin to meet the German chancellor Olaf Scholz and to launch what you might call a new “stance” for Labour: modern, post-Brexit and mindful of the great challenges of the world. He visited — as well he might — the Holocaust memorial and tweeted something appropriate about it.

Then, last weekend, a poisonous row erupted over a Labour campaign video made of his visit. It featured the Reichstag, the Brandenburg Gate and three seconds of Starmer and his shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, walking among the grey slabs of the memorial.

There was, however, no mention of the Shoah in the video.

Five years ago, a German Israeli writer called Shahak Shapiro created a website page taking aim at those visitors who treated the memorial as a selfie-backdrop and not as a site for solemn remembrance. The pictures he used to illustrate his point included a young man juggling six pink balls, a young woman in a yoga position and selfies posted with smiley emojis.

Shapiro explained that his “Yolocaust” website which photoshopped in terrible images of the destruction of Europe’s Jews was an attempt to get young people “to understand the importance of these memorials.

“They’re not there for me — for Jews — or for the victims, they are there for the people of today, for their moral compass. So they know not to elect the guys with the Hitler haircuts, because we could end up right where we were 80 years ago”.

So what could we reasonably say about the Labour video?

Clearly, the Labour leader was not making light of the Holocaust.

Nor, at a few seconds of screen time, was he tastelessly exploiting it. But you might argue that it is inappropriate for a partisan video to suggest an affiliation that should be beyond party politics. So yes, Sir Keir may walk past the Reichstag, pass through the Brandenburg Gate, speak to the camera with the backdrop of an art gallery, but it is a solecism to be seen in the same video walking through the memorial. Maybe (this argument runs) don’t do it again?

However that is not the tone that some of his critics took.

The newspapers earlier this week were full of the fulminations of the head of political and government investigations at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, Joe Glasman. He said that “exploiting a visit to the Holocaust memorial like this for campaigning purposes is not just tasteless, it is manipulative and repulsive”, that it was “offensively crass” and “an insult”, adding “this is especially so for a political party that itself still has serious problems with antisemitism in its ranks”.

The CAA are entitled to their view, of course. It may well be that they do feel “insulted” and “offended” by those three seconds of video.

They may well believe that Keir Starmer has done far too little to counter antisemitism in Labour’s ranks.

But I am not insulted or offended, nor do I think that the actual video is somehow redolent of the days when a Labour leader could commend a blatantly anti-Jewish public artwork.

But what I do worry about is the fact that the non-Jewish world might believe that the CAA is representative of Jewish opinion.

I don’t think it is. Two Jewish Labour politicians who fought Jeremy Corbyn tooth and nail — Margaret Hodge and Ruth Smeeth — have already condemned the CAA’s response.

Now, you can choose to dismiss them on the grounds that they are merely defending their leader, but given their record, this seems unlikely.

July 21, 2022 14:05

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