Lessons of the Holocaust

Does it make sense to say that we should learn lessons from the Holocaust? I believe it does – and they are clear.
For Jews, Menachem Begin, speaking in 1981, said it best:
“First, if an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him. Don’t doubt him for a moment. Don’t make light of it. Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent.

Murder of Jews in Ivangorod 1942

 

Second, when a Jew anywhere is threatened, or under attack, do all in your power to come to his aid. Never pause to wonder what the world will think or say. The world will never pity slaughtered Jews. The world may not necessarily like the fighting Jew, but the world will have to take account of him.”

The last Jew in Vinnitsa shot at edge of pit 1941

 

In the 1930s the Jews of Germany, and much of Europe, thought that they belonged to the most advanced and progressive civilisation the world had ever seen. They could not believe that the people who had thrilled with them to Beethoven and Goethe, and together with them had probed the secrets of the universe and the heart of the atom, would unleash on them a merciless barbarism as murderous as that of Genghis Khan. But they did.

Partisan Brigade of Abba Kovner & Benjamin Levin at Vilna Liberation 1944

 

For Gentiles, it is even simpler. Because of our long history of being persecuted, Jews have the most acute antennae for it. So if a Jew calls out antisemitism, don’t question them. Believe them. If you can’t bring yourself to support them, at least don’t try to silence them.
If, however, you dismiss Jewish accusations of antisemitism as being in bad faith, and support anti-Jewish remarks as ‘fair comment’; if you tell Jews that after 75 years it’s high time they ‘got over’ the Holocaust; if you condemn the government and armed forces of Israel for preventing the murder of its citizens by any means necessary; and, most wickedly of all, if you try to demoralise young Jews by lying to them that “Israel is doing to the Palestinian Arabs what the Nazis did to the Jews”; then, deny it though you may, I am afraid you are committing acts of antisemitism.

Woman Soldiers of the Israeli Defence Force

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A Trip to Romantischer Rheinland in May 1952

 

In May 1952 my mother Anne Berns, then aged 25, persuaded my grandparents to take her on a touring holiday of Germany, centered on the ‘Romantischer Rheinland’. Many of her friends thought she had no business going for a holiday in a country which had so recently come within an ace of destroying our own, and which had committed such unspeakable crimes, above all the Holocaust: but as she said, she wanted to go there “to see if the Germans were human”.

        1952 May Frank & Fanny BERNS in Garmisch   1952 May Anne BERNS Mittelsburg

Frank & Fanny Berns                        Town Centre

 

They hired a car & driver and toured a great swathe of West Germany (as it was then): the capital Bonn, Cologne, Heidelberg, Neuschwanstein, Oberammergau, Wiesbaden, Dinkelsbühl, Rothenburg ob der Tauber. They ended up in the Alpine resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen which their driver particularly recommended to them as an outstandingly beautiful spot.

So how were the Germans? As Churchill said in his speech to the US Congress in 1943: “The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet”. With the exception of a one-legged veteran in the ruins of Cologne who spat at them – Cologne had been flattened utterly, except for the cathedral which had been spared, but the city was a neat & tidy ruin –  everybody in the shops, resorts and hotels fawned obsequiously over my mother and grandparents and couldn’t do enough for them.

Britain had been starving for years under rationing, and even my grandparents who were in the fortunate position of being shopkeepers had their work cut out to organise enough food for themselves & their daughter. What they saw in West Germany made their eyes pop out of their heads. In Garmisch-Partenkirchen there were the biggest cream cakes they’d ever seen. Every shop was stuffed full with first-rate produce. My mother particularly remarked upon the beautiful leather handbags. As for the locals, they were plump, smug and beautifully – and expensively – dressed. The war had only been over five years, and Britain was still on its knees recovering. But in West Germany the appearance of the people and the towns was as if there had never been a war. Or if it had, they looked like victors.

1952 May Anne BERNS Garmisch Lodge1952 May Anne BERNS Garmisch Fat_Happy Burgers

In Garmisch-Partenkirchen

 

The manner of the Germans – those who were not fawning in service – was uniformly self-satisfied. It did not appear that they gave a thought to what they and their families had done during the war. It seemed they did not consider themselves responsible for any wrongdoing, and the concept of repentance was utterly alien to them.

Yes, the Germans were human. But they were quite devoid of what we would call humanity.

Is Kevin Myers Antisemitic?

The furore over Kevin Myers’ article in the Irish edition of the ‘Sunday Times’ on 30 July 2017 (Sorry ladies, equal pay has to be earned) has split the UK Jewish community in half.

Because so many people found it objectionable the Sunday Times has withdrawn it from their website. It achieved the twin goals of being insulting to both women and Jews: but from a Jewish perspective this was the salient passage:

“I note that two of the best paid women presenters in the BBC – Claudia Winkleman and Vanessa Feltz, with whose, no doubt, sterling work I am tragically unacquainted – are Jewish. Good for them. Jews are not generally noted for their insistence on selling their talent for the lowest possible price, which is the most useful measure there is of inveterate, lost-with-all-hands stupidity.”

Lest there be any doubt that Myers likes to sail as close to the wind as possible in his remarks about Jews, he wrote a deliberately provocative clever-silly piece about the Holocaust for the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ on 6 March 2009. This too has been pulled, but fortunately captured by another website:

http://archive.is/2017.07.30-135449/http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/opinion/there-was-no-holocaust-kevin-myers-28473646.html

The salient extracts:

“There was no holocaust…six million Jews were not murdered by the Third Reich…For efficient though the Nazis were, they were not so clinically precise as to kill six million Jews — not a Jew more, or not a Jew less…Moreover, there certainly was no holocaust. For if the word is to have any literal validity at all, it must be related to its actual meaning, which comes from the Greek words holos, ‘whole’, and caust, ‘fire’…Any one of us should be able to declare any old counter-factual and even offensive nonsense, without being sent to jail, provided we preach hatred for no one…[but] imams regularly preach hatred for Jews, and where the holocaust is routinely denied. Which member-state of the EU will pursue such conveyors of hate, or seek the extradition of an imam who says that the holocaust was a Zionist hoax? None of them…If Bishop [Richard] Williamson has an agenda, it is so bonkers as to rank alongside that of The Lunar Cheese Society.”

Vanessa Feltz has said on BBC Radio London that the Sunday Times article was “so obviously racist it’s surprisingly hurtful”. The Sunday Times responded by sacking Kevin Myers, who made a fashionably half-arsed apology: “I am issuing an apology for no other reason than contrition of the hurt I have caused them.” Jaw-droppingly, he continued: “I didn’t know Jews were living human beings. I thought they belonged to the Bible.”

One might have thought that this would be the end of it. But surprisingly, a number of Jews – three of whom, including a dear family member, I know to be among the bravest and staunchest supporters of Israel in Britain today, constantly putting themselves in real physical danger to counter antisemitic lies – have spoken out in defence of Myers. Here is what a past President of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland had to say:

“It is an awful pity that you all had to jump in without first consulting the Irish-Jewish community. The Jewish Representative of Council of Ireland are well able to look after our own local affairs without the interference of the so-called “do-gooders” from the UK and elsewhere….I know Kevin Myers, and I, among others, have personally offered him support. He is suffering from what he wrote. He has never been anything other than supportive to Judaism and Israel…” Another senior figure: “Try being a leader of a small community in a hostile environment.” “In the Irish media there were only about six writers sympathetic to Jews and Israel. Now there are only five.”

We have been here before. The ten thousand or so Jews of Iran have one seat in the Majlis reserved for their representative. Siamak Morsadegh has held that seat since 2008, and last year said in an interview with ‘The Independent’:  “The fact is, Iran is a place where Jews feel secure and we are happy to be here…no one forces the Jews to stay here…the actions of Netanyahu and his government, the way they behave towards the Palestinians, cause problems for Jews everywhere.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/irans-jews-on-life-inside-israels-enemy-state-we-feel-secure-and-happy-a6934931.html

Are you really saying that Ireland is as anti-Zionist – even as antisemitic – as Iran? If so, isn’t it about time you got the hell out and made aliya while you still can?

So how are we to judge Kevin Myers – for judge him we must? As so often, to my mind the most useful parallel is with the Black community. People make the mistake of thinking that being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion. It is not. It is most particularly nothing like being Muslim. Are there atheist Muslims? There are not. Atheist ex-Muslims, many under sentence of death – yes indeed. But rid our synagogues of the atheist Jews and you’d never get a minyan. Being Jewish is something you’re stuck with, no matter what you believe in. Like your skin colour.

When I was a child one of the most popular TV programmes was ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’. Fifty years ago, it was quite normal – though already a bit dated – for white people to black up. Fifty years before that, they were unashamedly called ‘Nigger Minstrels’ and at the heart of popular culture. Now if you asked any of the people who blacked up whether they were bigots, they would have been horrified. They would have said that they liked black people, they loved their culture, and they admired their musical and athletic talents. Are you getting echoes of anything here, Kevin Myers?

Before WWII, before the establishment of the State of Israel, there was a sound argument to be made for Jews not to make a fuss about gentiles who pointed out the supposed Jewish qualities of being good with money, musical and endowed with a native shrewdness. At least, so the argument went, they weren’t accusing us of murdering Jesus and baking matzohs with Christian children’s blood, and anyway those comments were a small price to pay for them not siding with Hitler. In Romain Gary’s ‘The Oldest Story Ever Told’  (1965) a Jew helps and conceals the Nazi who tortured him in the camps, because “He’s promised to treat me better the next time!”

It is long past time for Jews to stop being careful and precious about charges of antisemitism. That should have ended in 1945. We are no longer trembling Israelites. On the contrary, it is the Kevin Myers of this world who should be nervous about singling out Jews for special attention. The gentile world – and Europe in particular – has over two millennia of arrears of apologies due to the Jewish people. We Jews, of all people, have a right – even, I would argue, a duty to our children – to stand tall and proud and apologise to no-one. Arrogant? Try saying that to a brigade of the IDF.

The Dragon Masters – a Mirror War

In 1962 Jack Vance published an award-winning novella called ‘The Dragon Masters’. On a distant planet humans had bred a race of lizard-like creatures into fighting animals. Like dogs, there were many different breeds, with different characteristics and sizes, from the man-sized Termagants through the Spiders that serve as war-mounts to the elephantine Juggers. Their human masters use them in combat both against each other and against a space-faring race called the grephs.

It turns out the grephs are in fact the ‘basics’ – the lizard-like ancestors of the Dragons. As humans bred some of their captured ancestors, so the grephs captured and bred humans for combat. Against the Termagants they match Heavy Troopers; against Spiders they ride Mounts; and they have bred Giants to match Juggers in size.

We Jews are faced with a similar situation. So many Jews have been seduced into being anti-Zionist, and even anti-Jewish: Gilad Atzmon, David Baddiel, Moshe Ber Beck, Geoffrey Bindman, Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Greenstein, Henry Kissinger, Miriam Margolyes, Ilan Pappe, Jacqueline Rose, Michael Rosen, Shlomo Sand, George Soros, Philip Weiss, Yisroel Dovid Weiss – the list is depressingly long.

Against this wealthy and powerful army – and they number hundreds, if not thousands – we seem to be able to muster a bare handful of extraordinarily brave Muslims who understand and sympathise with the predicament of Jews and Israel. Maajid Nawaz, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, Noor Dahri – precious few else.

Where are our Giants?

Just How Anti-Zionist Is Britain?

I didn’t realise until a few days ago that the UK Government Petitions website is searchable. It’s not quite down to “Don’t tell him your name, Pike” level – but you can find out how many people from each parliamentary constituency voted for a given petition. So you can see in what areas support is strongest – and where they really don’t care.
Obviously I searched for the most popular antisemitic petition I could find, as you do. Fortunately there is nothing of that nature currently live: but in 2015 there was a fine example of antisemitism masquerading as anti-Zionism: “Benjamin Netanyahu to be arrested for war crimes when he arrives in London” This attracted 114,122 signatures before it closed in February 2016.
As a control I compared it to the most popular petition which was likely to attract the sort of leftish, anti-establishment progressives who might have signed the first petition – but without the anti-Israel element. This is still open: “Prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the United Kingdom”. As of 29 April 2017 it has garnered 1,863,606 signatures.
There are 650 constituencies in the UK, so on average 175 people from each should have signed the Netanyahu petition. More than 840 signed from: Bethnal Green (1665), Poplar (1528), Bradford West (1347), Birmingham Hall Green (1323), Blackburn (1319), East Ham (1311), Ilford South (1292), Birmingham Hodge Hill (1101), West Ham (1069), Leicester South (876), Rochdale (866), Bradford East (858) & Birmingham Ladywood (847).

On average 2,867 people from each constituency should have signed the Trump petition. More than 10,000 signed from: Bristol West (13177), Hackney North (12346), Hornsey (11848), Bethnal Green (11499), Holborn (11309), Hackney South (11166) Brighton Pavilion (11136), Islington North (10776).

What can we learn from these figures? Most importantly, that the Israeli/Arab conflict is a long way down on the agenda of even the most left-leaning politically-minded Brits. Secondly, that there is no drive to intersectionality: no underlying linkage between opposition to Trump and opposition to Israel. The only proportional demographic overlap with these petitions is in the East End of London, specifically Bethnal Green. This might be expected, as it is home to both the hard left and a massive Muslim population. But anti-Trump centres outside London (Bristol, Brighton) seem to have little or no animus towards Netanyahu or Israel. So where is the anti-Zionist animus concentrated? Bradford, Birmingham, Blackburn, Leicester and Rochdale – all very large Muslim centres.

Conclusion: anti-Zionism is just not that popular a cause in Britain, even among the hard, anti-colonialist, anti-American, anti-capitalist Left. But it does obsess a worrying large percentage of British Muslims. Below is the spreadsheet giving all above-average constituency figures: judge for yourself.

Anti-Zionist to Anti-Trump Petition Map of UK

The Chakrabarti Inquiry: Evidence that it ignores antisemitism

This was my submission to the Chakrabarti Inquiry:

As a concerned Jew I am writing to ask for your response to the following two questions about the Inquiry into the Labour Party which you will shortly be chairing:

  1. Can you confirm that you will not be applying double standards by on the one hand dismissing the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and Pickles governmental definitions of antisemitism, and on the other hand giving weight to accusations of Islamophobia made against those who merely wish to protest the incitement of violence?
  2. Can you confirm that you will not be perversely standing Macpherson on its head by accepting the testimony of those Jews who categorise such statements as “the creation of Israel as a Jewish State was a crime” and “Jews of all people should have learnt from the Holocaust to turn the other cheek ” as fair comment, and not the antisemitism that they are?

The following excerpts from the Inquiry prove that the response to my concerns is a resounding “No!”

[page 4]: “…  it  is incredibly important that whilst individual testimonies are acknowledged, universal principles are then applied. So for example Islamophobia, antisemitism and Afriphobia are all equally vile forms of racism.”

This was meant to be an inquiry into antisemitism. Islamophobia and hatred of people of African descent are serious problems, but of different origin and merit different treatment in a separate inquiry

[page 6]: “  In  1987  Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant and Keith Vaz were elected to the House of   Commons..”

All four of those MPs are egregious in their attacks on Israel. It is an insult to Jews for their names to be included in this inquiry.

“  The  Iraq War (to be  discussed  in  the  long-awaited  report  of   another  inquiry),  as  well  as  stop and search without suspicion, punishment without charge or  trial and the domestic extremism agenda left many British Muslims feeling suspect and alienated in their natural political home.”

The Iraq war was against the regime of Saddam Hussein which rained Scud missiles down on Israel. How on earth is this comment helpful to an inquiry into antisemitism?

[page 14]: “I  am in no way suggesting that bad taste metaphors and comparisons should ever be a matter for the criminal law any more than say ill-judged and incendiary cartoons.  I am told that they are frequently used in Israel. However, they are all too capable, not only of bringing the Labour Party into disrepute, but of actively undermining the cause of peace, justice and statehood for the Palestinian people which forms part of Labour’s current “two-state” foreign policy and which so many Jewish people (including in the Labour Party) actively support.”

This paragraph implies that insults used by Jew against Jew are fine for Gentiles to use against Jews. It also implies that the only Jews whose opinion is worth taking into consideration are those who support a Palestinian state.

[page 15]: “Crucially, I have heard testimony and heard for myself first-hand, the way in which the word “Zionist” has been used personally, abusively or as a euphemism for “Jew”, even in relation to some people with no  stated  position  or even a critical position  on  the  historic  formation  or  development  of  modern Israel. This has clearly happened so often over a number of years as to raise some alarm bells in Jewish communities, including amongst  highly orthodox  people  who,  whilst  perhaps  most “visibly Jewish” (e.g. in dress and or  observance), would never see themselves as Zionists.”

“A  further  complexity   comes  from  left-wing British  Jewry, including, but  not  exclusively,  young people becoming increasingly  critical of, and disenchanted  with Israeli Government  policy  in  relation  to settlements in the West Bank and the bombardment of Gaza in particular. This has led to some people personally redefining their Zionism in ways that appear to grant less support to the State of Israel and more solidarity to fellow Jewish people the world over.”

This clearly references Neturei Karta, Jews for Justice for Palestinians and their ilk. So these two tiny minorities are to be given as much weight when considering antisemitism as the vast majority of Jews who support Israel?

“ But  surely  it  is  better  to  use  the  modern  universal language  of  human  rights,  be  it  of dispossession,  discrimination,  segregation,  occupation  or persecution and to leave  Hitler,  the  Nazis and the Holocaust out of   it?”

This language is not universal but “When did you stop beating your wife?” It takes as a given that the Palestinian Arabs are dispossessed,  discriminated,  segregated,  occupatied  and persecuted.

 [page 16]: “What I cannot do is legislate for which causes activists within the Party spend their time and energies ,or require that people only highlight issues relating to one country or  government if they spend equal time  on  infractions or injustices elsewhere.  No doubt  my  many  years  as  a  domestic  human  rights campaigner may  have  led  some  people  (not  least  in  past  Labour  Governments)  to  question  my preoccupation with abuses by the British State when there was so much worse in North Korea, Saudi Arabia,  Syria,  Russia  and  elsewhere.  No doubt some people suspected my motives or my loyalty to Britain.  In truth it was my background, experience and a view that Britain should lead the world that informed my choice of activism.”

This is itself the antisemitic accusation of ‘whataboutery’ and comes straight out of the PSC playbook.

“ It is especially pernicious,  in  my  view,  to  blame  those who share  platforms with people who  went on (often some considerable time later) to say and do things with which we profoundly disagree and even abhor.”

“Sharing a platform or having a meeting around some kind of problem or injustice never has meant, does not and never will mean, sharing any or all of the views (past, present or future) of everyone in the room.  It is instead the business of peace-building and of the promotion of fundamental human rights.”

Far from being pernicious, this is shining a spotlight on a disingenuous protestation, here shamelessly repeated.

[page 19]: “Some care should also be taken to identify and record the identity of complainants. This would allow and facilitate genuine sensitive communication and “aftercare” in relation e.g. to a Labour Party member who has been targeted or upset unpleasantly by a fellow member.  However, it would also create an important distinction between such a complainant and a hostile journalist or political rival conducting a trawling exercise or fishing expedition in relation to a particular person or group of people  within the Labour Party.  I am not going so far to say that a politically motivated complaint should always be disregarded, just that motivation may have relevance, as will context. I also recognise that the Party’s elected structures (Leader, the NEC etc.) should be able to raise concerns of their own volition about a member in danger of   bringing the  Party into disrepute.  However, if  an  investigation arises  via this  route,  that  should  be  also  clearly recorded.  Further, subjects of complaint should normally be informed both of  its  substance  and  author  at  the  earliest  opportunity unless there is a clear and pressing reason for protecting the identity of a complainant.”

“Submissions to my Inquiry reveal a level  of concern and confusion (in  some  quarters) about the “Macpherson”  definition  of  a  racist  incident.  This is of course a reference to the famous Report of   1999 into the Metropolitan Police after its appalling mishandling of Stephen Lawrence’s murder.  The principle  that  an  incident should be recorded as “racist” when perceived that way by a victim may indeed  have  some  useful  application  outside  the  policing  context,  and  even  here  in  the  world  of   Labour Party discipline. However the purpose of   the approach is to ensure that investigators handle a complaint with particular sensitivity towards the victim.  It is to suggest the seriousness  with which  a complaint must be handled, but in no way to determine its outcome.  If I complain to the police that I have been the victim of a racist attack on the street, I should expect my complaint to be so recorded. However investigation and due process must of course then follow and it is perfectly possible that an investigator, prosecutor or magistrate will subsequently find either that no attack took place at all, or that its motivation was something other than racism.  In the present context, my complaint that I have been subject to racist or other personal abuse by a fellow Party Member should be so recorded, taken seriously and handled sensitively. However it will be for the investigation and any subsequent process to determine whether my complaint was ultimately well-founded.”

I am reminded of George Colman’s famous phrase: “Love and a cottage! Eh, Fanny! Ah, give me indifference and a coach and six!” Here, ladies and gentlemen, is Ms. Chakrabarti caught in the act of driving that indifferent coach and six through the spirit of the Macpherson Report. Macpherson clearly concluded that the accusation of prejudice is indeed in the gift of the victim: it is not for authority, and above all not for the perpetrator, to decide.

[page 27]: “I explained earlier why the trigger of antisemitism notwithstanding ,I believed that it was right that my terms of reference embrace all forms of racism. I also explained that it is not enough to avoid being clearly, expressly or deliberately racist in the Labour Party if anyone feels excluded from their instinctive political home. That is why the idea of ensuring “Labour is a welcoming environment for members of all communities “constitutes the fundamental underpinning of my task. The journey of this Inquiry has reinforced the importance of this, not just in principle, but sadly in practice as well.”

“ I believe it right, natural and wholly positive for the Labour Movement, that so many new-comers to Britain, their children and grandchildren have gravitated to the party of social justice since its origins and inception. There is nothing inherently suspect about this tendency, and it should be welcomed and positively encouraged by all in the Party.”

Having had the chutzpah to trample Macpherson underfoot, Ms. Chakrabarti compounds it by arrogating to herself the decision as to who is fit to join the Labour Movement. You do not have to be a social justice warrior to support Labour. If they expel the Blairite New Labour Centrists for good, then Labour will never again have the chance to form a government.

‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ by Amos Oz

I have just finished reading ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ by Amos Oz (a bit late in the day, I know – the English translation came out in 2004). What a read! Ostensibly it is the autobiography of the author’s first sixteen years, but it is so much more than that. It chronicles the history of his family from his grandparents’ childhood in the 1880s, and at times flashes forwards to 2001 when the author was writing. Through his family’s eyes, Oz describes the entire Zionist project from Herzl to Netanyahu – a true roman fleuve.

I must admit I embarked on this book out of a sense of duty, thinking that for somebody interested in Jewish thought and Israeli politics it was a worthy-but-dull must-read. But within a couple of chapters I was as lost in the book as the young Amos Klausner (he changed his surname to Oz after going to the kibbutz) was in the books of his childhood. Great credit must go to Prof. Nicholas de Lange’s limpid and fluid translation.

I have often asked myself why so many Israelis, particularly in Jerusalem, when presented with the glorious sunshine, freedom and physical and mental health of Eretz Yisrael, dafka insist on retaining the neurotic, fearful, shrivelled lifestyle of Eastern Europe. My late father used to say: “It was terrible there, and you should thank God your grandfather got out!”. Amos Oz’s family did not thank God they got out. They brought their Eastern European culture with them to Jerusalem, the intellectual pyrotechnics and crippling fears intertwined, and wrapped it around them like a Dementor comfort blanket, branding all those it touched.

But the book makes you sympathise with these people and understand how and why they were this way. Not just (just!) the Shoah, which casts its shadow over every Jew and will continue to do so for who knows how long, but before that, centuries of persecution, of having our feebleness, compared to the majority population, so embedded in our psyche that we believed it ourselves.

The sabras shook this off, and did it so effectively that they forgot how to empathise with their neurotic mishpoche – thus compounding their neurosis.

This book is so compelling that it even dares – to those that have ears to hear – to propose an answer to the question that most of us dare not ask: Why did we go like sheep to the slaughter between 1941 and 1944?