Before I wrote this blog I looked up the definition of ‘Holocaust’ in five different dictionaries plus an online definition. Only one of the dictionaries defined it as ‘the destruction and loss of life of on an enormous scale.’ The other four sources had roughly similar definitions, but all went on to reference the ‘Jewish’ Holocaust in particular. What happened to the Jews was indeed an affront to humanity and an event which should be forever etched in the memory of mankind. But it’s not the only one. Indeed throughout all of history other races, creeds and peoples across the entire globe have been subjected to their own holocaust, the numbers, in my view are irrelevant. The Armenians at the hands of the Turks, the marsh Arabs at the hands of Saddam, millions of Russians at the hands of Stalin, the Kurds at the hands of the Iraqis, the Japanese at the hands of the Americans, the Irish potato famine, and the hundreds of thousands who are murdered each year in internecine tribal warfare in Arica. This list, alas, is not exhaustive by any means.
And yet what is interesting is that if you drop the word holocaust into any conversation it will be the Nazi’s persecution and attempted eradication of European Jewry that will be in the forefront of people’s minds. Fair enough, because the Holocaust you see has become the Jewish Brand. They alone have cornered the holocaust market and wear it with the same identity as the big yellow letter ‘M’ as displayed throughout the world by McDonalds. It has been, and is used to justify most of the policies adopted by the Government of Israel to this very day. It’s the ace that trumps all criticism.
And here’s a useful exercise for you. Take one hundred Jews and ask each one of them to talk about their country, its history, their culture and how Israel came into being. They will most likely begin by explaining how Palestine was a land without a people conveniently overlooking the small detail that the indigenous Arabs had formal registration documents to their land and legally held passports. But to a man, and indeed a woman, they will each reference the Holocaust because it was that terrible event out of which their nation was born. However, very few, if any of them at all, will mention the forced removal of Palestinians from their lands and homes in the embryonic Jewish state, their terrible living conditions in the occupied territories, and the suffering they endure therein on a daily basis, a suffering that is directly a result of the Jews pursuit of Zionism in the land once known as Palestine. Now I have nothing against Israel and their desire for a homeland, though at the rate of illegal expansionism and continued settlements I half expect them to show up in Kent, but it has been achieved at expense of another people. And I will admit to never having visited Israel, let alone the human zoos that are Gaza and the West Bank so I don’t know if the Israelis do irony, but you’d have to admit that it’s pretty ironic that a people for whom the term ‘refugee’ might have been coined, has created millions of others on its very doorstep. The best book I have ever read on this entire human tragedy is Robert Fisk’s ‘Pity The Nation.’ If you haven’t read it then at least place it on your list to do so.
And so this brings me to the political playing fields of England, where the current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been accused of being anti-Semitic because he is not in one hundred percent agreement with the international examples of what constitutes antisemitism. And though I wouldn’t be in agreement with much of what dear Jeremy has to say, I’m with him on this one. Not least, because as the Israeli government turn the screw on the Palestinians with new state laws, it is more important than ever to make distinctions between legitimate critiques of unjust Israeli policies and hostility towards Jews simply for being Jews. Surely it’s our collective anti-racist principals which invite us to criticize Israel for its discriminatory policies, its dual system of justice, its segregated roads network and the recent Nation-State Law which basically entrenches ethnic inequality. Perversely labelling critics of this racism “antisemitic” also silences Palestinians who object to Israel’s historic and ongoing takeover of their land.
But also, I have always found the tyranny of the majority painfully disconcerting. In this instance it is the right on political, self-righteous brigade who’ve never spent a day of their lives under Israeli oppression who are apoplectic that Corbyn won’t be bullied out of his principled support for the plight of the Palestinians. So now they are running around with their pants down looking for words uttered by Jeremy when he was at playschool to prove he’s an anti-Semite though ignoring the fact that via military, financial and diplomatic support, western governments are deeply complicit in Israel’s violations. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some very uncomfortable attitudes towards the Jews throughout the Labour Party, Corbyn has kept some questionable company, and some dark individuals control its membership, not to mention more displays of casual, anti-Jewish racism than I could list here. But just because a few academics hunkered down and came up with eleven ways not to insult Jews doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, and it is simply untrue to imply Jewish communities are unanimous in their support of the IHRA.
On the contrary, by dangerously conflating opposition to Israel’s discriminatory policies with anti-Jewish racism, IHRA politicises and harms the fight against antisemitism as well as the struggle for justice for Palestinians.
These eleven definitions by the way were obviously penned long before the recent passing of Israel’s Nation State Law, a law which makes no reference to equality or democratic values in the legislation. It defines Hebrew as the country’s only official language, relegating Arabic to “special status,’ basically second class citizens. Not racism? I’d say so. Not anti-Arab? Certainly, and definitely not democratic. But because of the backdrop of the holocaust brand no country raises more than an eyebrow to such blatantly racist policies. It is profoundly wrong to label the Labour party “antisemitic” for refraining to adopt IHRA guidelines in their entirety. Criticising Israeli policies, and indeed the tenets of Zionism, must be allowed to be part of political debate. To be a holocaust denier is a crime, and rightly so. But to deny the existence of Palestine and a Palestinian the right to return to his homeland should equally be so. The Palestinians as we know cling hopelessly to this dream in much the same way as they cling in vain to their dream of a two-state solution. The de-facto position on the ground of course is a one party state, but if I may be allowed to paraphrase the late, great, George Orwell, the future of the Palestinians is thus: Imagine the boot of an Israeli soldier stamping on a Palestinian face …forever.
12th September 2018.