Westminster Holocaust memorial is a tragic betrayal of the dead

Backed by establishment toadies, the planned monument and learning centre is the wrong building in the wrong place with the wrong remit — and it is a desecration of the Shoah

February 09, 2023 10:25

It’s groundhog day all over again for the long-planned Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Westminster’s Victoria Tower Gardens.

This huge, Brutalist construction would destroy a quiet green oasis valued by local residents. Last July, the Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that the structure was prohibited by a 1900 Act of Parliament, passed to protect the park from such developments.

Yet now the government — which previously overrode Westminster council’s objections — has declared it will legislate to cancel out that 1900 law.

It will thus ride roughshod over a historic legal protection for the local community. Is this really a desirable context for a project supposedly devoted to memory and law as a defence against oppressive and arbitrary power?

There are more fundamental objections to the memorial’s supposed message.

Although the Nazis murdered many types of people in the Holocaust, their principal driver was the intention to wipe the Jews alone off the face of the Earth. Yet much Holocaust memorialising denies the unique characteristics of antisemitism and the genocide of the Jews.

A graphic example was provided by the UK Online Commemoration for Holocaust Memorial Day last month. Its 23 sections referred to “genocides” in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and Darfur, to “the Nazi persecution of gay people” and to “people being persecuted simply because they were Ordinary People who belonged to a particular group”.

But there was no mention of the genocide of the Jews other than two fleeting references in personal messages from Michael Gove and Sir Keir Starmer. The chief executive and chair of trustees of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust didn’t mention it, urging reflection instead on “the Holocaust, the Nazi persecution of other groups and more recent genocides”.

In evidence to the planning inquiry, the memorial’s architect said he envisaged a place to mark the murder of six million Jews, Roma and “all victims of Nazi persecution”; and to reflect on “the murder of the millions of Cambodians by the Pol Pot regime, the million Rwandans murdered by the Interahamwe and the thousands of Muslim men and boys murdered in Bosnia”.

In its 1939 white paper, the British government tore up its legal obligation to settle the Jews in Palestine. Instead, it barred entry to those desperate to flee Nazi Europe, causing untold numbers to be murdered and making Britain an accessory to the Holocaust.

Will the memorial really deal with this? The Holocaust Memorial Trust claims it will provide “an honest reflection of Britain’s role”. Yet the project’s supporters simultaneously claim that situating it next to Parliament demonstrates that democratic “British values” will prevent such horrors happening again. Well, which is it? It can’t be both.

If it were really to address Jew-hatred, it would show that the Nazi period wasn’t an aberration but on a continuum stretching back to earliest times — and encompassing the war waged against Israel today.

It would accordingly highlight the Nazi-themed incitement against Jews incessantly pumped out by the Palestinian Authority, whose leader is a self-professed disciple of Haj Amin al-Husseini — the Nazis’ ally in Palestine, who promised Hitler he would annihilate every Jew in the Middle East.

There’s no indication it will focus on any of these things. As the leading protester Baroness Deech wrote in a letter to The Times this week, the promoters “envisage visitors leaving the learning centre, seeing the Palace of Westminster and realising that British democracy prevents genocide and antisemitism. History has shown no such thing. It will engender complacency and a sense of ‘job done’”.

Today’s epidemic of antisemitism is perpetrated mainly by Palestinian Arab supporters, Muslims and communities radicalised by Black Power.

Jewish grandees say the Westminster memorial is essential to help protect the community against antisemitism. Yet these establishment figures are silent about the Muslim or black antisemitism driving the Jew-hatred in Britain, America and Europe. They are silent about the tsunami of incitement against Jews from the Palestinian Authority.

Instead, these Jewish leaders label those who do speak about these sources of Jew-hatred as Islamophobes, racists and extremists, and treat them as pariahs.

The Jewish dignitaries promoting the Westminster memorial are establishment toadies and Tory party donors. Government ministers, who very decently want to do the right thing by the Jews, may think the community is united in support. Not so.

Last October, a debate about it hosted by the National Jewish Assembly was attended on Zoom by more than 100 members of the Jewish community. Digital polls recorded 62 per cent opposed at the start of the debate and 82 per cent opposed at the end.

The memorial’s backers refuse to discuss the project with its opponents. The Board of Deputies has never debated it.

Instead, various politicians, officials and Jewish community bigwigs have attacked both Jewish and non-Jewish opponents with emotional blackmail, bullying and character assassination, including spurious accusations of antisemitism.

The Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, has referred to this project as a “sacred task”. It is not. It threatens to be a desecration of memory, an abuse of civic engagement and a shameful betrayal of the slaughtered Jewish millions.

Melanie Phillips is a ‘Times’ columnist

February 09, 2023 10:25

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