censorship of Holocaust Memorial Day Events

Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities22 January 2007

Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC) condemns as censorship the decision by Britain's Holocaust Memorial Day Trust to remove from its website a number of events organised by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign for Holocaust Memorial Week. SACC supports all the censored events.

The censored announcements include notices of round-table discussions being held in Glasgow and Edinburgh with representatives of the Jewish community and of other communities that suffered in the Holocaust. According to the website of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust:

"Holocaust Memorial Day is about commemorating all of the communities who suffered as a result of the Holocaust and Nazi persecution, and demonstrating that the Holocaust is relevant to everyone in the UK today. The day provides a focus – through the national and local events and activities – for people to think about the continuing repercussions of the Holocaust and more recent genocides on our society."

The Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign says that it organised the events this week to:

"1)remind people of the scale, scope and insane dynamic of the Nazis mass killings of WWII

2)discuss the flight of many Jewish Holocaust survivors from Europe after WWII to British-occupied Palestine

3)show the links between the bitter tragedy of European Jews and the Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine from 1948 to today"

This seems to exactly match the declared aims of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. The situation in Palestine – whether or not one chooses to characterise it as ethnic cleansing - is quite clearly one of the most direct examples imaginable of a "continuing repercussion of the Holocaust." Many observers of the Palestinian situation would, in fact, share the view of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Israeli historian Ilan Pappe that the term ethnic cleansing is apt.

The Trust has so provided no explanation for its decision to censor annoncements about the discussions.

The Trust has also censored announcements of rehearsed readings of Jim Allen's play Perdition, which it describes as anti-semitic.

The play criticises the political leadership of the Jewish community in 1944 Hungary for its active collusion, indeed collaboration, with Eichmann and the Nazi authorities far beyond what was justified in the closing months of the war with the Nazis in headlong retreat on every front. The fictional libel case presented in the play draws on and refers to the ruling by an Israeli Court in 1954 that that Hungarian community leader Rudolf Kastner had betrayed the Jewish people. Kastner was assassinated in 1957, and in 1958 was posthumously cleared by the Supreme Court of all charges of collaboration.

The Jewish resistance emerge from the play as heroes; Jewis leaders who chose a path other than resistance are presented as no better than collaborators – people failed, whatever their intentions, by Zionist ideology. Zionism, the argument runs, is too closely linked to racism in its vision of Jewish separateness to be capable of standing effectively against the truly monstrous racism of the Holocaust.

The play charts difficult waters in its use of fiction to explore these issues. Not everyone will think that its blending of history and imagination is a proper way to deal with events of such magnitude. But it cannot possible be called anti-semitic.

Nick Joseph, Acting Chief Executive Holocaust Memorial Trust, calls it exactly that. He says, in a statement issued today:

"In our opinion, the play is anti-Semitic because it purports to reveal a vast conspiracy in which Zionists in Nazi Europe, London and Washington conspired with the Nazis to bring about the deaths of millions of Jews in order to achieve the creation of the State of Israel. A common theme of anti-Semitism is the existence of a world conspiracy in which Jews control London and Washington, in effect, blaming them for millions of deaths. The play, therefore, labels Jews and the whole Zionist movement as complicit in the Holocaust. This is a distortion of the facts, and has no place in Holocaust Memorial Day. The play will go ahead, however, it will not be promoted by the Trust through its website.

At the heart of Holocaust Memorial Day is learning from the lessons of the Holocaust, and other genocides, to tackle discrimination and prejudice today. We want all communities and groups to be involved with Holocaust Memorial Day on a basis of mutual respect and understanding. For this reason, the national commemoration will bring together Jews, Christians, Muslims, survivors from the Holocaust, Bosnia and Rwanda, and others, and reflect on these lessons and the atrocities in Darfur."

What Nick Joseph means when he says that the play "purports to reveal a vast conspiracy" is that it deals with a political movement amongst Jewish people around the world directed at creating a state of Israel, and it particularly deals with the way that movement responded to the Nazi regime, and with the actions it chose to take – or not take – as the Nazi Holocaust unfolded. The existence of the Zionist political movement is a historical fact that no one disputes. That Zionism was presented with the events of the Holocaust and had somehow to respond to them is also clear. By attaching the word conspiracy to the Zionist movement, and then placing a taboo on his own word, Nick Joseph elides all discussion of Zionism with the racist notion of a world Jewish conspiracy. In doing so he makes any study or portrayal of Jewish history or politics simply impossible.

Perdition is a political play. Jim Allen clearly believes that the ideas collectively held by people matter, that they shape the decisions taken by the people who hold them, and that these decisions also matter. He believes that the right political viewpint can provide a path, however painful, through the horrors of history and that the wrong political viewpoint can set one on the road to collective and personal perdition.

That is why Perdition is essential for us today. It isn't enough to think that mass murder is wrong. It is also necessary to analyse the political developments that make it happen, the developments that support it, and the developments that de-mobilise resistance to it.

This is only the second year that Holocaust Memorial Day – held in Britain since 2001 – has been held as a day designated internationally by the United Nations. The UN Resolution calling for the Holocaust to be remembered on 27th January – the day of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp – says:

"The Holocaust, which resulted in the murder of one third of the Jewish people along with countless members of other minorities, will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice."

The stakes could not be higher. Holocaust Day, so recently internationalised, needs to be remembered in ways that meet our expectatiions of it.

A survey recently conducted for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust shows that 41% of us believe a Holocaust could happen in Britain, yet 36% think most people would stand by and do nothing in the event of genocide in the UK. If these figures are truly representative, they should tell us that the political crisis facing Britain is deep and pressing, and that the task facing the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is huge. We must begin right away to work out how to make the actions collectively undertaken by our society match the human values we all hold dear. We must cultivate the habit of recognising the politics that lead to to perdition, and of taking another path. Going to see Jim Allen's play would be a very good start to that process.

The play readings and the other events will, of course, be held with or without the endorsement of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Audiences will no doubt find their own way to them. But an opportunity will have lost to present these events, in the eyes of everyone, as a central part of our collective respone to the Holocaust. And our collective response will be weaker because of it.

SACC hopes that the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust will sooner rather than later recognise the service done for it – and for all of us – by the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign in presenting the play and discusions.

Details of all the Holocaust Memorial Week events that SACC is aware of – including the events organised by the Scottish Palstine Solidarity Campaign – can be found at www.sacc.org.uk/diary.php