PSC Crusading Against Holocaust Deniers: a Step Too Far?

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By Ruth Tenne- Camden PSC

"To have the Holocaust part of Jewish success, to have the victims of the Holocaust become part of Jewish empowerment, is unsettling. To speak of the Holocaust without confessing our sins towards the Palestinian people and seeking a real justice with them is a hypocrisy that debases us as Jews" (Marc Ellis - a Jewish Scholar)

My memories of the Holocaust as a child in an Israeli Kibbutz are a mix of sorrow-infused feelings arising from some factual events which took place around me. I still have early recollections of Holocaust survivors and European refugees (Plitim ) who arrived off the boat at dead-of- night - having been transferred to our kibbutz which was situated not far from the port of Haifa. They only stayed there for a short while before being taken care of by the Jewish Agency which dispatched them quietly to different locations and centres in the country. As a child, I remember being very upset by the fact that my parents had to give up their small flat to those newcomers, having to move out to a small tent at the outskirts of our kibbutz. Those Plitim were not regarded as one of us. They did not speak the Hebrew language, had a haunted expression, decimated body and a pale complexion which stood out in contrast to our healthy looks and fit body. Above all, they were not real kibbutzniks who came to work on the land of our kibbutz. They were forced out of Europe by the Nazis' persecution, and did not hold the Zionist ideology which was maintained by the members of our Kibbutz who immigrated to the land of Israel long before WW2.

In the very early days, the Holocaust was not considered as a major part of the state and of its Zionist heritage. To some extent there was a disregard, or even contempt, of the millions of Jews who faced their "butcher like herds for slaughter ". Only when the full extent of the Holocaust was unfolded, were those feelings replaced by a deep-seated hatred of Germany and its post-war Government. Yet, that was quite short-lived. Ben Gurion, the first Premier of Israel, realised that the new state - which faced an economic crisis, high unemployment and pressing security needs - was in dire need of financial, economic and political support. In spite of strong opposition from both the right and left parties he pronounced his intention to sign an agreement on restitution payments with Germany - citing the biblical prophet Elias: "has thou killed and also taken possession," (Kings 1). Ben Gurion's pragmatic approach "won the day" and got the approval of the Israeli parliament. The stonewall of self- shame , which was accompanied by hatred and resentment of anything German, had been broken- opening the way for enterprising opportunities of exploiting the full range of reparations, made possible by Germany's acknowledged culpability. A new body -the Jewish Claims Conference - was founded in 1951 to engage the German government in negotiations for material compensation for Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. Nahum Goldmann , then President of the World Jewish Congress (JWC), was appointed as a co -founder of the Claims Conference, and JWC designated two members to its Board of Directors .The reparation enterprise has been thriving and exploited to the full - all in all, until 2007 Germany had paid 25 billion Euros in reparations to the Israeli state and individual Israeli holocaust survivors . [1]

In Israel a number of Holocaust survivors chose to return to their homebirth- Germany. [2] Nonetheless, quite a few victims of the Holocaust refused to have any dealing with Germany or push for any reparation claims. I still have some vague recollections of the debate among my mother's family in Israel. She and her two siblings lost their parents and a married sister with a small baby in the Warsaw ghetto. Yet my mother refused, on moral grounds, to submit any reparations claims for her lost family members and their home and business in Warsaw.

Sadly, the reparation act (1953) and Germany's eagerness to compensate victims for the crimes of the Nazi regime opened the way to fraudulent claims. On November 9, 2010, the Us Attorney's Office announced an indictment against 11 employees of the Claims Conference and several other individuals for fraud and embezzlement of over $42 million dollars....The conspirators allegedly took out ads in Russian Language newspapers for people who were of a plausible age to have lived through World War II and coached them using their detailed knowledge of the history of the Holocaust to make fraudulent claims in exchange for kickbacks". [3] Thus, the Holocaust in the words of Norman Finkelstein, whose mother was a Holocaust survivor, became a fully-fledged industry: "Jewish elites, acting in concert with the US government, exploit the horrific suffering of the millions of Jews exterminated during World War II and the few who managed to survive for power and profit. In its ruthless exploitation of Jewish suffering, the Holocaust industry has arguably become a fomenter of anti-Semitism and a purveyor of Holocaust denial" [4]. In Israel, however, the Holocaust industry assumed some further far-reaching aspects. It became both a political and moral instrument of expediency , employed in justifying the creation of a singular Jewish state and its oppression of the Palestinians - as if Never Again has no meaning when applied to the Palestinians , or to any other neighbouring nations and movements which stands in the way of the Jewish state. The Holocaust Museum was built in 1953 following the unanimously passed Yad Vashem Law - which established the Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. Ironically, if not symbolically, the Holocaust museum,Yad Vashem, was built in an area that was ethnically cleansed of non-Jews in 1948. It is not far from Deir Yassin, where more than 100 Palestinians were slaughtered in an effort to induce the flight of hundreds of thousands more throughout historic Palestine. [5]

The memorial shrine to the Holocaust has become an inseparable part of Jewish heritage and of the nation's psyche. It formed a focal point for a "re-born" Jewish identity which transformed Never Again into a moral imperative of building a strong and independent Jewish state in the Holy Land. (Re. Yizkor: Memory of Slaves, an Israeli film by Eyal Sivan). [6] To that end the Holocaust was instrumental in playing on the guilt feeling of Western Leaders who were paraded to Yad Vashem in advance of any political negotiations : "In 1973 the Austrian UN Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim rejected requests to wear a Jewish kippa during a visit to Yad Vashem....In 2000, German Chancellor Gerhard Schrober visited Yad Vashem as a guest of Israeli Premier Ehud Barak ... During 2008, Yad Vashem hosted a wide range of VIPs and dignitaries, beginning with US President George W. Bush , who visited in January 2008". [7] Thus, The Holocaust (Shoah) has become synonymous with anti-Semitism whose purported revival turned out to prove a useful political means - gaining unquestionable support for Israel from the British parliament and the EU. [8]

Norman Finkelstein's book Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of ant-Semitism and the abuse of history (2006) offers a gripping account of the extent to which "the charge of anti-Semitism has become a weapon readily used by the Israeli lobby to fend off a genuine criticism of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians and to stifle any attempt at forcing Israel to comply with international law. In order to give some intellectual weight to their political expediency the term 'new anti-Semitism' has been invoked by Israel's apologists who argue that 'if classical anti-Semitism is anchored in discrimination against the Jewish religion, new anti-Semitism is anchored in discrimination against the Jews as people and the embodiment of that expression in Israel" (p33).[9] The newly-coined term "new anti-Semitism" has gained a popular currency - readily used against anti-Zionists activists ( who , many of them were, ironically, Jewish) and pro-Palestinian bodies alike. A prominent target for accusations of anti-Semitism has been the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK whose widely- supported work for the Palestinians attracted the outrage of the Zionist lobby. [10] Though in the past the PSC steadfastly defied such accusations by disregardfully continuing its campaign against Israel's oppression of the Palestinians, it eventually submitted to Zionist and Jewish pressures. See my comment below. Consequently, PSC adopted a long-winded and over- wrought motion ( AGM's motion 2 , January 2012) which included a rather awkward passage declaring "any expression of racism and intolerance, or attempts to deny or minimise the Holocaust have no place in our movement". Thus, implying that PSC membership might be infiltrated by latent Holocaust deniers and covert anti-Semites. Ironically, the misguided "call to arms" resolution goes on to say "such sentiments are abhorrent in their own right and can only detract from the building of a strong movement in support of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people", indicating that a witch -hunt of purported Holocaust deniers could advance PSC's work and bring about greater unity - a practice reminiscent of the"redbaitings" policies undertaken by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the fifties.

The "purge" of alleged Holocaust deniers had started in earnest before the Executive's motion was adopted by PSC's AGM. One of the co-founders of PSC and an ex-Chair of PSC & Brighton &Hove branch was expelled from PSC and his appeal for restitution was rejected by the recent PSC's AGM. The dedicated long-standing Secretary of Camden PSC - Gill Kaffash -was forced out of her post for questioning the official narrative of the Holocaust. A new era of accusations and counter -accusations among PSC members appeared to endanger the very unity the PSC Executive's motion had aspired to achieve. Having worked with Gill Kaffash for a number of years I was happy to second her motion to PSC's AGM in which she deplored the pressures on PSC members which was brought about by the recent expulsions and internal accusations of Holocaust denial . In her motion Gill Kaffash suggested a guiding definition of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism which focused on the practice and advocacy of pernicious discrimination rather than on the futile pursuit of alleged Holocaust deniers among PSC members. As expected, the Zionist media was happy to jump on the band wagon. A derisory piece against Gill Kaffash and myself was published by the rabid Zionist website -Harry's Place [11] while the Jewish Chronicle revelled in the seemingly emerging split within PSC. [12]

Perhaps predictably Gill's motion was remitted to the Executive on the grounds of apparent lack of time for discussion by the AGM. Consequently, Gill and I sent our written support for the motion in accordance with the AGM's procedures. As a Seconder of Gill Kaffash's motion I said in my piece "I do not consider the Holocaust as a taboo subject which, in my view, is virtually hijacked by Israel and the Jewish community...By looking out for alleged , or imaginary , Holocaust Deniers and voting for a motion which makes it part of PSC's official and publicly-declared policy we are placing ourselves on the same level as those who view PSC as an Antisemite organisation....It is clear to me that PSC should avoid falling into the trap of employing an ambivalent and open-ended definition of Antisemitism , or get engaged in an anti- Holocaust Deniers campaign - which may stand the risk of conflating extreme criticism of Israel's policies , or view any attempt to re-visit and challenge the narrative of the Holocaust, as an Antisemitism.... I would submit that if, indeed, the PSC strives to "building alliances and support- based on the principles of justice, human rights and international law" (AGM's Motion 2 ), it should add the following statement to Motion 2.... "Equally PSC should endeavour to combat attempts of (mis)using the Holocaust in order to fend off criticism against Israel's policies and in employing the Holocaust's emotive narrative in defending Israel's racist actions and Apartheid practices ". ( For the full version of my submission see [13] ).

I hope that PSC Executive and membershp would reflect on Gill Kaffash's motion and on my supporting submission as a Seconder of the motion and discard altogether their newly-assumed role of a "thought police" - dedicated to flush out and purge Holocaust Deniers having equated them with anti-Semites. Undoubtedly, the abandoning of such misguided policy/aims would widen the appeal base of PSC, usher in greater unity, and allow its members to focus their efforts on fighting Israel's oppression of the Palestinians and combating the intolerable Apartheid policies of the Zionist state.

1. Congressional Research Service: Germany’s Relations with Israel: Background and Implications for German Middle East Policy, Jan 19, 2007. (page CRS-2).













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