Orla Guerin’s report shows what’s wrong with Holocaust remembrance

Robert Cohen discusses the manufactured outrage over Orla Guerin’s brief reminder on BBC News that Jewish victimhood has translated into Israeli supremacism over the last 75 years. Such incessant patrolling of how the Holocaust is to be understood is an insult to all those whom were murdered. The fact of mass murder is not in question but how we are to interpret it and learn from it, like all significant historical events,  is and must be an area of controversy. To seek to preserve it in aspic, with only one script sanctioned, prevents the learning that the self-appointed arbiters claim they wish to promote. Thinking about the Holocaust is neither revisionism nor denial, it is a duty.

This article first appeared on Patheos.com and is reproduced by permission of the author

As I become older I realise that the Holocaust is not over. The gas chambers and incinerators are gone but the consequences of the horror will continue to play out in the decades and even centuries to come. Our understanding of who we are as Jews, our place in the world, our politics, how others view us, even our theology, continues to be shaped, indeed defined, by the Holocaust.

Why would it be otherwise?

Just as with earlier major turning points of Jewish history – the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 or the expulsion from Spain in 1492 – the Holocaust changed everything. A third of our people were destroyed along with their culture and heritage. But none of us were left untouched whether we were alive then or born since. Or are yet to be born.

As Jews we have every reason to be sensitive about how the Holocaust is spoken about. What happened should be remembered. It should be taught. Mourning is necessary and reverence is needed, if only to help us to heal.

In remembering the Holocaust, we understandably focus on the past. What happened. And why. We raise up the voices of the remaining survivors so they can give their personal testimony one more time before they become too frail. We ask the leaders of nations to recommit to fighting antisemitism. We engage with our neighbours at a community level and work to create a shared acceptance of the need to remember, and for some, atone.

But there are dangers in how we remember too.

Trauma and narrative

The greatest danger I see is the passing on of unprocessed trauma from one generation of Jews to the next. Living in constant fear of existential threats is not living, it is only surviving. No group of people can thrive if trapped in such a mental condition. We have become sophisticated at teaching the facts of the Holocaust. But poor at recognising the deep emotional impact such learning may cause us and our children.

The other danger is that we try to police the narrative of the Holocaust and set boundaries on its interpretation. There are many reasons why this happens. Some are about emotional and psychological needs linked to the passing on of trauma. But most of the time it’s mixed up with politics. Usually the politics of Israel. And all of this can take place in both conscious and unconscious ways. The results are the same though. We fail to see the full consequences of the tragedy as it continues to work its way through Jewish history and human history too.

Orla Guerin

Orla Guerin
Orla Guerin

All of which brings me to the BBC’s International Correspondent, Orla Guerin.

One short TV news report this week seems to illustrate what takes place when unprocessed collective trauma comes together with a desire to set boundaries on the narrative of the Holocaust.


The BBC had commissioned Orla Guerin’s report as part of its coverage of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

As I watched the report broadcast on the News at Ten on Wednesday evening I knew all hell was about to break out for Guerin and the BBC.

The following morning, Board of Deputies Vice President, Amanda Bowman, made a formal complaint to the BBC for allowing Guerin to make a link from the Holocaust to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“In an otherwise moving report on the experiences of a Holocaust survivor, Orla Guerin’s attempt to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the horrors of the Holocaust was crass and offensive. Her lack of impartiality on the Israel-Palestine conflict has long been a matter of concern and it is questionable why the BBC would even use her for this sensitive assignment. As we approach Holocaust Memorial Day, the Jewish community is within its rights to expect an apology.”

Meanwhile, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, wrote an Op Ed in his paper that surpassed even his own impressive track record for hyperbolic prose:

“I cannot recall a more foul – sickening, indeed – report by any journalist, either in print or broadcast.”

Later, the former BBC chairman Michael Grade and Danny Cohen, its former director of television, added to the criticism. Cohen was quoted by the Guardian:

“The attempt to link the horrors of the Holocaust to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is deeply offensive and upsetting. It was unnecessary, insensitive and particularly ugly in the days before Holocaust Memorial Day. Adding insult to injury, the report uses pictures of Holocaust victims in Yad Veshem during the sequence in which this link is made. This is inexplicably and unjustifiably offensive.”

The Campaign Against Antisemitism also submitted a formal complaint from its Chief Executive Gideon Falter:

“Few could imagine perverting what is supposed to be an educational piece about the Holocaust to instead fuel the very antisemitism that such education is supposed to prevent, but that is what the BBC has done. It was utterly appalling to watch Orla Guerin hijack a segment dedicated to remembering six million murdered Jews, and instead use it as a vehicle to desecrate the memory of the Holocaust with her hatred of the Jewish state.”

The criticism Orla Guerin has received has been truly ferocious. So what did she actually say that has caused such offence?

Auschwitz and the Palestinians

Most of Guerin’s the report was taken up with a sensitive and compassionate interview with a Holocaust survivor, Rena Quint, filmed in Jerusalem. It ended with Rena Quint at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial/museum with footage of her looking at the exhibits. The final seconds of the film showed Israeli soldiers visiting the museum. It was over these pictures that Guerin made her concluding commentary:

“In Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names – images of the dead. Young soldiers troop in to share the binding tragedy of the Jewish people. The State of Israel is now a regional power. For decades it has occupied Palestinian Territories. But some here will always see their nation through the prism of persecution and survival.”

Outrage

For the Board, Pollard and the other objectors to this news report, mentioning the Palestinians in the same breath as the Holocaust is an outrage.

The objection is that it minimises Jewish suffering, or creates an equivalence with Palestinian suffering, or suggests that Israeli persecution of Palestinians is akin to the Nazi treatment of the Jews. Or it does all three.

I would agree that there needs to be a great deal of care and sensitivity in drawing any similarities between Israel and the Holocaust. More often than not, Holocaust comparisons to Israel are used as crude sloganising designed to be provocative and deliberately hurtful to Jews while shedding little light on Palestinian suffering.

However, Orla Guerin was doing none of this in way she ended her report.

Intimately connected

You cannot understand the creation of the State of Israel (where half the world’s Jewish population now live) nor the attitudes and outlook of its political leaders or Jewish citizens without taking account of the Holocaust and the previous 2,000 years of European Jewish history.

The Holocaust and Israel are intimately connected – emotionally, politically, theologically. They cannot be separated in any kind of analysis of Jewish experience since 1945.

And if Israel chooses to make Jerusalem the focal point of the commemorations (when previously Auschwitz itself has been) then why is it so unreasonable to link them in a news report? After all, generations of Jewish and Israel leaders have presented the creation of the State of Israel as a form of redemption for the Jewish people following the Holocaust and an act of atonement on the part of the international community which did so little to protect Jews or give them a safe haven when they could have done.

But there’s much more to justify Guerin’s commentary. And this is where the dangers of unprocessed Jewish trauma and the desire to control the narrative comes into view.

The undeniable truth is that Palestinians are part of the post Holocaust story too. Their history and current situation cannot be separated from Auschwitz any more than the Jewish story can. In fact, they have become the same story because the Palestinians paid the price for Europe’s failures and the rest of the world’s indifference.

What’s really offensive is the attempt to disconnect the relationship between these two peoples. Whether we like it or not, we are now bound together in our post Holocaust experience.

Without wanting to draw any historical equivalence of suffering, one can legitimately argue that the Palestinian people are also Hitler’s posthumous victims. All that Guerin has done is point out this relevant information.

Of course, the project of Zionism, of a settler colonial ‘return’ to the Promised Land, began decades before the Holocaust. But I strongly doubt the creation of a Jewish State in 1948 would have happened in the way it did if the Holocaust had not taken place. The international community’s relationship to Israel over the decades would have been entirely different too.

It’s not hard to understand why all those who are protesting about Guerin are so vexed by the whole affair. If the Palestinians are allowed into the Holocaust narrative, then the Jewish presentation of the creation of the State of Israel as an entirely righteous and innocent endeavour starts to break down. We can’t afford to allow the Palestinians to be anything other than obstacles and irritants to our own project of post Holocaust salvation.

And underpinning this state of mind is that perpetuation of intergenerational trauma. Trauma generates fear and fear leads to suspicion. It certainly leaves no room for empathy when it comes to the Palestinians.

This is the unbalanced, asymmetric tragedy of Israel/Palestine. It is the Holocaust continuing to wash through history.

‘Deal of the century’

In the coming days we’re likely to see a further marginalisation of the Palestinian people as President Trump finally announces the details of his grossly misnamed “deal of the century”. Benjamin Netanyahu certainly hopes it will “make history”, by which he means it will soon facilitate the annexation of the main Settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley into sovereign Israeli territory.

So the Holocaust continues to play itself out creating new generations of victims. And it’s still too soon to understand what it all means or when it will truly end.

Expert Opinion on the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” of the IHRA

Peter Ullrich has prepared a detailed analysis of the IHRA working definition on antisemitism. It is a dense read but takes the discussion of the shortcomings of the definition further than previous critiques. Ullrich shows that what is regarded as an unamendable text by its UK protagonists has been adapted significantly elewhere. He carefully explores not just the history and language of the document but also the necessity of seeing it as a text to be interpreted and not a simple set unambiguous categories.

Executive Summary

The “Working Definition of Antisemitism” recognized by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in 2016 is an instrument for collecting required data on and fighting antisemitism that has achieved wide dissemination. In a field of action characterized by a high degree of conceptual insecurity, the definition promises conceptual orientation by providing a basis for practical work. Indeed, with its concrete language devoid of technical jargon and its tangible examples that illustrate the concept of antisemitism using typical, recurring phenomena, the “Working Definition” has become the basis for the work of various groups of users. Moreover, the adoption of hitherto rarely examined aspects of antisemitism related to Israel provided an update for the discussion that was necessary at the time the definition was formulated (in the early 2000s). Continue reading “Expert Opinion on the “Working Definition of Antisemitism” of the IHRA”

UCL attack on Academic Freedom

Mike Cushman analyses the unreasonable and unprecedented restrictions UCL have placed on what may be said at the launch of a new book on Chomsky’s work. They have extended the range of examples that they define as antisemitic even beyond the wide ranging and frequently criticised examples attached to the IHRA definition.

LATEST – ‘GUIDELINES’ HAVE GONE

We wrote to the head of UCL and received this response:

Thank you for taking the time to set our your concerns. The Provost has asked me to respond to you to let you know that, following discussions here and with the independent chair of the event, we have now agreed a way for the event to proceed without asking the speakers to sign up to the guidelines.

We have also heard that the requirement to submit the text of talks in advance has also been dropped.

_______________

The Responsibility of Intellectuals: coverUniversity College London (UCL) has resisted pressure on them to cancel their hosting of the launch of a book their press is publishing The Responsibility of Intellectuals: Reflections by Noam Chomsky and others after 50 years . However, they have conceded ground to the unwarranted allegations that the event will provide a platform for antisemitism by asking for prior sight of presentations and describing a list of items they presume to be antisemitic. Their banned topics go beyond even the IHRA’s possible examples of antisemitism. They represent a gross breach of academic freedom and legally protected free speech. Continue reading “UCL attack on Academic Freedom”

Antisemitic ‘jokes’ are no problem – when a Zionist giggles

Jonathan Ofir asks, “Why does Bill Maher get to run antisemitic ‘jokes’ with Bari Weiss, when Ilhan Omar can’t say a word about Israel?”

This article is republished from Mondoweiss by permission of the author

New York Times staff editor Bari Weiss is on a hell of a roll these days, having just published a book called “How to Fight anti-Semitism”. Weiss’s own paper, the New York Times, judges the book to be “a brave book”, because Weiss is ostensibly walking into perilous intellectual territory:

Continue reading “Antisemitic ‘jokes’ are no problem – when a Zionist giggles”

Lib Dem members: party line on Labour anti-Semitism is ‘ill-judged and uncritical’

We are a group of Liberal Democrats proud of the recent growth in support for our party, but seriously concerned that our leaders’ repeated utterances about alleged antisemitism have not been based on sound evidence. We have tried to raise this issue with them and get it discussed within the party, but much to our disappointment, have encountered a total refusal, as if the topic were taboo. The experience has led us to publish this article.

Reprinted from Open Democracy by permission of he authors

There exists prejudice against Jews and other minorities in all corners of British society, but we have found no hard evidence behind repeated assertions (echoed by the Lib Dem leadership) that it is exceptional or rampant on the Labour left. Since 2017, some of us have been trying to get the leadership to discuss the issue properly, but without success. The experience motivated us to form this group, and write them an open letter in May, asking them to “tell the truth about alleged antisemitism”.
Continue reading “Lib Dem members: party line on Labour anti-Semitism is ‘ill-judged and uncritical’”

David Miller rebuts Daily Telegraph smears

Professor David Miller

Professor David Miller has written a twitter thread rebutting the false and malicious claims about him made by Daily Telegraph journalists. This was a flagrant attempt to undermine academic freedom in the context of discussing Palestine and Israel.

Reprinted by permission of the author
The Sunday Telegraph has published a hit piece on me by @camillahmturner and @ImogenHorton98
Let’s review the inaccuracies and weasel words used to insinuate antisemitism even while explicitly denying they are making such an allegation. Continue reading “David Miller rebuts Daily Telegraph smears”

The witch hunt against Chris Williamson and WitchHunt

Mike Cushman looks at how the witch hunt against Chris Williamson is linked to WitchHunt. The film shows how slurs against principled supporters of Palestinian rights become solidified into ‘common sense’

Chris Williamson is an outspoken socialist and supporter of the Corbyn project, so it is no great surprise to find him the subject of a witch hunt. A campaign that has now led to threats of violence to prevent him speaking. Continue reading “The witch hunt against Chris Williamson and WitchHunt”

8 Holocaust survivors compare Zionist policies to those of the Nazis

Chris Knight writes about how the IHRA definition attempts to stop us learning from history.

[Editorial note: It is important to recognise that comparisons with Nazis need to be carefully considered and not used as a default term of abuse. It is also important to note that analogies are best  drawn with pre-1939 Nazi oppression of Jews  (and of course many others); not with the industrialised mass killings of the war time period with which there is no comparison.]

Reprinted from Labour Briefing

One of the more worrying aspects of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism is its suggestion that ‘drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis’ is necessarily anti-Semitic. It is true that, at times, such comparisons can be crude and ahistorical. But in many cases, even where we might dispute the conclusion, it seems far-fetched to attribute it to anti-Semitism.

Here we publish extracts from Holocaust survivors who oppose historical and recent Israeli policies, in some cases connecting them with those of the Nazis. In one case, the author Rudolf Vrba – again a Holocaust survivor – compares key policies of the wartime Zionist movement to those of the Nazis. Continue reading “8 Holocaust survivors compare Zionist policies to those of the Nazis”

IHRA silences dissent- we told you so

Antony Lerman says “I warned that adopting the IHRA would shut down protest on Palestine – I’ve been proved right”

This article first appeared in the Independent and is reprinted by permission of the author

When cyclists signed up for this year’s Big Ride For Palestine, which raises funds for a charity aiding Palestinian children in Gaza, they were expecting to finish with a rally in a Tower Hamlets park. But the council took a secret decision to ban the rally using a false interpretation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) controversial “working definition” of antisemitism.

Advert for Big Ride end of ride rally Continue reading “IHRA silences dissent- we told you so”

Distorting the definition of antisemitism: silencing criticism of Israel

Amos Goldberg and Raz Segal add to evidence that the IHRA (mis)definition of antisemitism fails to protect Jews and inhibits free speech as illustrated by the recent actions of Tower Hamlets Council

They describe how the IHRA initially sought to combat racism against Jews and Holocaust denialism, but its definition of antisemitism serves as a tool for silencing criticism of Israel, making it harder to identify actual forms of anti-Jewish hatred.

This article is republished from +972

There is a growing tendency among both Jews and non-Jews to label those with whom they have profound political differences, especially on the subject of Israel-Palestine, as antisemitic. The accusation is a severe one: in most countries in the West, antisemitism is considered a taboo, and the identification of a person or organization with antisemitism often renders them illegitimate in the public arena. Continue reading “Distorting the definition of antisemitism: silencing criticism of Israel”