The conflation of opposition to the Shoah memorial with antisemitism is offensive to the memory of the victims

Putting £75m into a memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens is not the answer to antisemitism, writes Barbara Weiss

August 09, 2019 17:09

It is hard to imagine who the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation will be wheeling out next to express their unwavering support for its project to build a rather large and aggressively sculptural Memorial and Learning Centre in the small and delicate Victoria Tower Gardens adjoining the Houses of Parliament. 

We have now had the full roster of surviving ex-Prime Ministers, 174 MPs, an impressive panoply of Faith Leaders, including the Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Canterbury, the Mayor, past and present Secretaries of State, not to mention  Boris Johnson, who recently joined the ranks, promising "unshakeable support".

Their messages are all very similar, and difficult to disagree with. What we, the many thousands who object to this proposal, including many Jews, cannot however agree with, is the obstinacy with which Victoria Tower Gardens is put forward as the only place in London, and indeed in the UK, appropriate for this initiative. 

Even more concerning, however, is the twist of the recent rhetoric used to address objectors, which has suddenly turned nasty, and sadly goes hand in hand with the recent "dirty tricks" tactics used by the Big Ideas company, employed by UKHMF at a cost of £118K to the taxpayer, to "rig" supporter numbers on the planning consultation.

A few examples. The UKHMF Chairs, Eric Pickles and Ed Balls have accused Westminster Council in a letter of abetting "racist slurs" on their planning portal while dropping their professional standards in "giving excessive weight to the number of objections lodged". 

More recently, the newly appointed Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, has also waded in, warning the Council leader that Westminster Council will become a "bystander in the battle" against antisemitism, should it refuse planning permission. 

Not wanting to be left out, the president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van der Zyl, has today taken this a step further, willing "deep international shame" on the hapless council if it dares to uphold planning policy in the face of all the pressure to allow this scheme to be built. 

Why is the government throwing so much effort into browbeating Westminster into approving this scheme, and accusing its opponents of being antisemitic, despite many of the critics being Jewish people who have the Holocaust in their history and in their thoughts? 

There is no doubt that many politicians care passionately about fighting racism, and some genuinely believe that putting £75m into a building in London is the best way to solve them. 

As Baroness Deech, however, notes, “Public money allocated to the memorial could be better spent in improving Holocaust education and recording memories. The government's constant conflation of opposition to this memorial with antisemitism is politicising the project in a way that is offensive to the memory of the victims. 

"There are many thoughtful Jewish opinion leaders, ranging from Lord Grade to David Aaronovitch and Melanie Phillips, who are asking us to reflect on these critical issues.  Neither memorials nor democracy stop the spread of antisemitism. It is time for all of us to re-think.”





August 09, 2019 17:09

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