Fury over ‘sickening’ LRB article saying Israel leverages Shoah to ‘slaughter children’

Front-page piece draws derision and outrage from Jewish figures


The London Review of Books has sparked fury after publishing a front page headlined: "The Shoah After Gaza".

In the latest scandal to engulf the 45-year-old literary magazine, an extended quote from an article by author Pankaj Mishra on the cover of the March edition describes the Holocaust as a "universal reference point… in danger of disappearing" due to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The magazine, which claims to have the largest circulation of any magazine of its kind in Europe, states on the front page: “Memories of Jewish suffering at the hands of Nazis are the foundation on which most descriptions of extreme ideology and atrocity have been built.

“But these universalist reference points are in danger of disappearing as the Israeli military massacres and starves Palestinians, while denouncing as antisemitic or champions of Hamas all those who plead with it to desist,” it went on.

In the article, Indian writer Mishra argues in favour of “re-universalising” the moral significance of the Shoah, adding: “Israel today is dynamiting the edifice of global norms built after 1945”.

Mishra suggests Israel believes it “has the right to slaughter 13,000 children not only as a matter of self-defence but because it is a state born out of the Shoah.”

The writer goes on to describe how Jewish Americans in the late 1960s and 1970s were “the most educated and prosperous minority group in America and were increasingly irreligious”.

For well-to-do Jews, Mishra argues, the Holocaust and an affiliation to the Jewish State, “turned into a badge of identity and moral rectitude”.

Now the essayist argues that “Gaza has become for countless powerless people the essential condition of political and ethical consciousness in the 21st century [...] it seems that only those jolted into consciousness by the calamity of Gaza can rescue the Shoah from Netanyahu, Biden, Scholz and Sunak."

Mishra goes on: “Many of the protesters who fill the streets of their cities week after week have no immediate relation to the European past of the Shoah. They judge Israel by its actions in Gaza rather than its Shoah-sanctified demand for total and permanent security.”

The piece has drawn widespread derision from Jewish figures. Writing in The Times, JC columnist, Hadley Freedman, noted “the left-wing intelligentsia only tries this kind of provocative thought experiment with Jews”. The JC’s Anshel Pfeffer tweeted, “There [are] plenty of ways of criticising Israel over the war in Gaza but writing 8000 words lecturing Jews that they are like Nazis and anyway the Holocaust actually wasn’t so special so they should stop obsessing about it says more about this pseud than it does about Israelis or Jews.”

Israeli government spokesman Eylon Levy, wrote that the essay demonstrated the major challenge of “Holocaust inversion, especially when turned against Jews in conjunction with sickening blood libels.”

Political correspondent, Lahav Harkov, called the article “disgusting”, and said the writer’s use of “the concept of the Holocaust as a ‘universal reference point’ is part of the problem [...] It led to the idea that the Holocaust was not unique, and was also some kind of purifying experience from which Jews were ennobled and therefore supposed to behave a certain way”.

The argument over the LRB front page is the latest in a history of controversy between the journal and the Jewish state.

On 18 October, LRB published a letter signed by hundreds of writers which condemned Israel but failed to mention the October 7 massacre. The letter claimed, “The State of Israel commits serious crimes against humanity” and accused Israel of “genocide”.

The Hebrew Writers Association in Israel, representing 800 writers and artists, wrote a public letter condemning LRB for their initial response to the war. The group then denounced LRB when they failed to respond to their letter.

Since 2019, LRB has been edited by Jean McNicol and Alice Spawls. McNicol has recently liked a tweet from anti-Zionist agitator Barnaby Raine and another that referred to the Metropolitan Police’s failed attempt to arrest a woman holding a banner in which Biden was depicted as a baby killer.

Meanwhile, head of audience at LRB, Jay Owens, tweeted a quote in October: “‘Only a colonial mindset seeks to cultivate the desert. The Zionist project to ‘make the desert bloom’ was a violent undertaking against nature and the indigenous population, involving not only Palestinian dispossession but also the theft of their water’.”

Owens quoted Naomi Klein who talked about the “green veneer” of the Zionist ethos and her view that “trees, specifically, have been among the most potent weapons of land grabbing and occupation”.

Under its previous editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, the magazine was mired in accusations of antisemitism. Wilmers, who has Jewish heritage and currently works as a consulting editor for the magazine, once told a journalist, “I’m unambiguously hostile to Israel because it’s a mendacious state.”

In 2010, a media monitoring group, Just Journalism, accused LRB of using public funds to promote writing that is “virulently” and “unremittingly” hostile to Israel. It accused LRB of using £190,000 of taxpayers’ money to pay contributors to depict Israel “in a uniformly negative light”. According to the report, LRB consistently represented Israel as a bloodthirsty and genocidal regime while it portrayed terror groups, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, in a sympathetic light.

In 2006, the magazine published an explosive essay titled “The Israel Lobby.” The piece, by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, argued that the US government was beholden to the Israel lobby. The essay was praised by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader, and allegedly distributed by the PLO in Washington. It was also hailed by AbdulMoneim Abul-Fotouh, a senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

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