Friday, January 29, 2010

Never again

Last week, Geoffrey Alderman, in his regular Jewish Chronicle column, noted the Labour MPs in marginal seats with enough Jewish voters to unseat them in the coming election went Tory. Among them were Hendon's Andrew Dismore and Harrow East's Tony McNulty. I wouldn't want to suggest cynical motivation to McNulty's excellent Holocaust Memorial Day speech in the Houses of Parliament:

It is a pleasure, if that is the right word, to speak in this debate in this place. As my hon. Friend Mr. Dismore suggested, we have had a role in these events through history, however small. Let me just point out to Mr. Keetch - I had a row with Michael Heseltine about this once-that the Nazis were not elected. They never secured a majority. It was the foolishness of the Deutsche Zentrumspartei and the German Conservative party-no partisan point intended- that allowed Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei into power. They were never elected. That may be a small point, but I make it.

It is instructive, too, to look back in Hansard and read the 1937-38 debates on the emergency in Europe that led to the Kindertransport initiative. Many strong speeches were made saying that we must do something, but there were also those which asked what it had to do with us. Let us remember that this was at a time when the Prime Minister of the day, Neville Chamberlain, wrote - I do not have the exact quotation, but I cited it on the 70th anniversary of the Kindertransport - that the Jew, although rather shifty was not terribly unpleasant and we should probably do something to help them. That was the Prime Minister in 1937-38.

When my hon. Friend asks whether national Holocaust memorial day has been successful, my answer is that that is debatable. I recently did a question time with others at a synagogue in my constituency, and some of the questions asked revolved around the issue of whether it was safe for British Jewry to remain in Britain. The answer is profoundly yes, with qualifications, but if people have to ask that, we have some way to go. Why do we remember? It is for two reasons. First, we must never forget, but secondly, we must never repeat. The two go hand in hand.

Why do we remember the Shoah, the holocaust, more than any other historic event? It is because of its banality, its normality and its extraordinary ordinariness. It is because of the mechanised, industrial scale on which a state's decision to eradicate a race was carried out. We should not equivocate in comparing atrocities, but that mechanistic and industrial nature is unprecedented, and that is why we remember it and should continue to remember it. As the survivors fade away, we have all the more reason to remember. [...]

The main point that I wish to make is that you cannot equivocate on this issue. You cannot say that you are doing all you can to avoid a subsequent holocaust if you let things slide or pass. I say that not as a partisan point: I genuinely mean it. You cannot indulge Kaminski, given his past. You cannot indulge people who dabble with the history of the Latvian Waffen SS and claim, "That's okay, we don't really mean it and we'll gloss over their history." You cannot do that and mean it when you say, "Never again." The lesson of national Holocaust memorial day must be that you cannot be just a little bit anti-Semitic. You cannot be just a little bit of a holocaust denier, and you cannot be just a little bit in support of terrorism.

[...]

It is a disgrace that at any stage since the inception of national Holocaust memorial day the Muslim Council of Britain has boycotted it. I have said that to its members' faces, so I am not saying anything here that I would not say to them. It is very disappointing that Dr. Abdul Bari decided that Davos was more important than attending the commemorations. That is a matter of profound regret, given the nature and sensitivity of the day. Someone else from MCB attended in a personal capacity, whatever that means, and a rather junior person attended in Dr. Bari's stead. That is a matter for regret for MCB, as well as for the unity that we all seek.

We cannot say "never again" and then indulge Ahmadinejad, the holocaust denier, or others. During the demonstration in London last summer - I was not on it, but I passed it - I saw genuinely sincere people holding banners saying, "We are all Hezbollah now". That made me weep when I saw it. But the leader of that movement thinks that all Jews are the grandsons and granddaughters of pigs and monkeys, he is a holocaust denier and he wants to push Israel into the sea. That is not to say that Israel is above criticism, but that is a different matter. We cannot as a Government or a country equivocate on those points. You cannot be a little in favour of terrorism and fully support national Holocaust memorial day. You cannot, as al-Qaradawi has done, condemn 7/7 here but then say that our little children bombers in the west bank and Gaza will take on Israel because it is a war state and there is no such thing as an Israeli civilian. You cannot equivocate on such matters: you have to condemn, and you have to condemn harshly.

When I talked to the British Board of Deputies early in the consideration of my hon.
Friend's Bill to introduce a national Holocaust memorial day, I said that part of the purpose was to remind people that "never again" meant exactly that. As other hon. Members have said far more eloquently than I could, we have not held to that. If we slip and indulge other people and their ideologies simply because that makes things easier for us, we will fail in ensuring that it never happens again. We should, of course, engage with all communities, including the Muslim Council of Britain, but we should do it in terms that leave people in no doubt about our collective values. That includes condemning anti-Semitism and all forms of racism. If we slip on that just a little or if we tell people what they want to hear rather than what they should hear, we fail. We fail not only as a Government, but as a nation and as parliamentarians.

The substantive point behind national Holocaust memorial day was, of course, never to forget, but-and this is where we have our failings-it is also about ensuring that it is never, ever repeated in any form, but certainly in that mechanised, racist and ethnocentric form. We are in better shape now than we were, but we are being a tad complacent if we think that somehow, 10 years on from the first national Holocaust memorial day, we have done the business and there will never be another holocaust of any description. I hope that that is right, but that legacy of hope is what we build on and hope that it is not formed of eggshells.

And another good Holocaust memorial day speech from Israeli Arab MK Ahmed Tibi here.

Video from Peter.

No comments: