Palestine, Israel, Zionism and the Holocaust – a reply to Michael Chessum

By Tony Greenstein, Brighton Momentum activist

(This is a reply to Michael Chessum’s explanation of why he voted to remove Jackie Walker as vice chair of the Momentum steering committee. It does not reflect the view of the Clarion editors or most of our contributors, but we publish it in the interests of debate on the left.)

Why you cannot separate the Holocaust from Israel and Zionism

The present split in Momentum can be traced back to the night of the 3rd October when Jon Lansman moved to remove Jackie Walker from her post as Vice-Chair of Momentum. The pretext for this were comments that she had been secretly recorded making at a Jewish Labour Movement ‘training session’ on anti-Semitism at the last Labour Party conference. It is clear, in hindsight, that Jackie had been the victim of a political ‘sting’ by the Jewish Labour Movement, which is the emanation of the Israeli state inside the Labour Party.

None of the comments Jackie made were in the least anti-Semitic but a climate was created in which anything she said about anti-Semitism or the Holocaust would be twisted by the JLM into an allegation of ‘anti-Semitism’.

We saw how this was done in the third programme of Al Jazeera’s ‘The Lobby’ when Joan Ryan MP, Chair of Labour Friends of Israel concocted an ‘anti-Semitic’ incident at their stall when questioned by Jean Fitzpatrick as to what their ‘support’ for 2 States in Israel/Palestine meant in practice. In practice, as she found out, not a lot. It is mere rhetoric designed to cover up for their support for the existing status quo and the military occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Jackie’s ‘anti-Semitic’ statements that led to her removal as Momentum Vice-Chair were:

1. ‘wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day were shared by all people who had experienced genocide’.
2. ‘I haven’t heard any definition of anti-Semitism that I could work with’

It is difficult to understand how either statement could be said to be anti-Semitic. They are expressions of opinion. Whether or not they are true is immaterial. It was as if Jackie had been urging a Pharaonic cull of the Jewish first born. The sincerity of her main antagonist, the JLM, can be judged by its silence over Israeli Labour Party leader Isaac Herzog’s effusive welcome for the election of Donald Trump and the anti-Semites he has brought in his wake in the form of Steve Bannon and the Alt-Right.(1)

Of course the Zionist lobby and their friends in the media have an unerring ability to create a synthetic symphony of outrage about ‘anti-Semitism’ out of nothing. All the newspapers – from the Tory tabloids to the Guardian were eager to damn Jackie. Instead of defending her, Jon Lansman threw her to the wolves. Stephen Pollard of the Zionist Jewish Chronicle reported that Lansman had ‘reached the end of his tether”. Lansman informed the Independent that “I spoke to Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Labour Movement this morning, he’s very upset and I can understand that – I work closely with Jeremy…’

I can certainly believe that Lansman works very closely with Newmark, a man who works closely with the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, whose previous job as spokesperson for Benjamin Netanyahu included justifying the murder of hundreds of children and two thousand civilians in Gaza two years ago.

One would have expected, as a matter of course, that Jill Mountford of the AWL and Mike Chessum, who is politically close to them, to have opposed Jackie’s removal as Momentum Vice Chair, even if they didn’t agree with her comments. In agreeing to the Lansman witch-hunt back in October, they opened the door to Lansman’s support for the witch-hunt of the AWL and his coup in Momentum itself. You cannot be on both sides of a witch-hunt.

Despite their protestations it is obvious that both Chessum and Mountford voted to remove Jackie Walker as Momentum’s Vice Chair because they deemed her remarks anti-Semitic. There is no other conclusion. All the stuff about ‘losing confidence’ is a mere circumlocution.

The Holocaust and Israel

The Holocaust has played a formative role in the creation of Israel’s own self image and its ideological legitimation. Is Chessum unaware of the role the ship the Exodus played in 1946 in opening the gates of Palestine and its use of Jewish refugees from displaced person’s camps to open the gates of Palestine to Jewish settler immigration?

Holocaust imagery pervades Israeli political dialogue.(2) The Holocaust has played a key role in the justification for a Jewish ethno-supremacist state. Where else is there a state, which defines itself on the basis of an imagined ethnicity of part of its population (Jewish) rather than on all those who reside there? A fictive nation (Jewish) that crosses every national boundary and language?

We often hear that Israel is the only Jewish state in the world. True but of course irrelevant. Britain is a Christian state but all its citizens, Christian and non-Christian are equal. In Israel being Jewish means that you possess privileges that non-Jews do not have and this is justified by reference to the trauma of the Holocaust.

Idith Zertal, one of Israel’s revisionist historians(3), wrote about how ‘there has not been a war in Israel, from 1948 till… October 2000, that has not been perceived, defined and conceptualised in terms of the Holocaust…. Auschwitz is not a past event but a threatening present and a constant option.’(4) The Holocaust has been consciously utilised in order to defend its actions against the Palestinians and to ward off criticism.

Examples of how the Holocaust has been used are legion. Menachem Begin, Prime Minister during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon and siege of Beirut, compared Yassir Arafat to Hitler in his bunker. According to Begin the alternative to Israel’s genocidal war was ‘Auschwitz’. Israeli Labour’s Foreign Minister, Abba Eban told the UN that “I do not exaggerate when I say that it [the June 1967 map] has for us something of a memory of Auschwitz.” The Green Line between Israel and the West Bank is referred to in Israel as the ‘Auschwitz border’. Netanyahu told the 2015 World Zionist Congress that it was the Palestinian Grand Mufti who was responsible for Hitler’s Final Solution. Netanyahu has repeatedly compared Iran to Nazi Germany.

As Tom Segev, a critical Israeli historian explained, the only image of a Palestinian in Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum ‘(is) a photo featured prominently on a wall depicting the Mufti sieg heiling a group of Nazi storm troopers’. Its purpose being to ensure that ‘the visitor is left to conclude that there is much in common between the Nazis’ plan to destroy the Jews and the Arabs’ enmity to Israel.’(5) Effigies of Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, were dressed in Nazi uniform by his political opponents as a prelude to his assassination.

As Zertal persuasively argues, the Israeli state has effectively nationalised the memory of the Holocaust and in the process ‘it directly excluded the direct bearers of this memory – some quarter of a million Holocaust survivors who had immigrated to Israel.’(6) This is why you have the terrible phenomenon of Israel, a rich and prosperous state, bristling with state of the art weaponry including nuclear weapons, condemning the actual survivors of the Holocaust to live out their life in penury as it keeps them in dire poverty despite having received reparations to provide them with a comfortable old age.(7)

Zionism has defined the Holocaust as something exclusive and unique to the Jews because of its ideological usefulness in Israel’s propaganda wars. Elie Wiesel held that to compare the Holocaust with the sufferings of others was a “betrayal of Jewish history”.(8) In a debate with Sybil Milton, the Senior Resident Historian at the US Holocaust Museum, Yehuda Bauer, Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem argued that the Nazis only attempted to annihilate one people, the Jews: “Roma were not Jews, therefore there was no need to murder all of them.”(9) To this day the US Holocaust Museum refuses to include the Roma victims of the Holocaust.

If you go to the Holocaust Memorial Day site and click on Holocaust you will be taken to a page that says ‘Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazis attempted to annihilate all of Europe’s Jews.’ There is no mention that the Holocaust began in 1939 with the extermination of the Disabled, the T4 Euthanasia program. The Roma and Gypsies are not mentioned either. If you click Nazi Persecution you will come to a page which begins ‘Singling out Jews for complete annihilation in the Holocaust was not the full extent of Nazi persecution.’ Although it goes on to mention other groups, they do this in the context of the ‘persecution of disabled people and gay people’. They do not mention that they too were exterminated. There is no mention of the extermination of 10 million Africans in the Belgian Congo or the estimated 14 million Africans in the slave trade.

This is why when Jackie Walker made criticisms of how the Holocaust is presented and used or how anti-Semitism is defined it has a direct bearing on how, in this country, Israel’s propaganda war is conducted.

Notes

1. See Open Letter from Jewish Members of the Labour Party to Jeremy Newmark and the Jewish Labour Movement
2. See e.g. Playing the Holocaust Card; Calling your political rival a Nazi is a time-hallowed tradition in Israel
3. That group of historians in the 1980’s onwards who began to challenge the foundational myths of Israel, most notably about the flight of the refugees in 1948. Until then it had been the consensus that they had voluntarily left at the urging of the Arab leaders whereas it is now accepted that they left forcibly and as a result of massacres
4. Israel’s Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood, p.4, Idith Zertal, Cambridge University Press, 2011.
5. Tom Segev, The Seventh Million, p.425,Hill and Wang, 1991, USA
6. Zertal, p.5
7. See for example Israel is Waiting for Its Holocaust Survivors to Die, Ha’aretz 6.2.13. Ironically my quoting of this article formed part of my investigation hearing as the Labour Party Compliance Unit assumed that this must be some wicked invention by anti-Zionists seeking to libel the Israeli state.
8. Wiesel, Against Silence, p.146, Schocken Books, 1988
9. The History Teacher, Vol. 25, No. 4., August 1992 pp. 513-521

Let us know what you think? Write a reply? theclarionmag@gmail.com

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