I find Holocaust Memorial Day personally incredibly difficult. It reminds us of an astonishing period in human history, when a developed European country exterminated millions of fellow humans – six million Jews, and many Roma, Slavs, Communists, Socialists, homosexuals and the disabled.
But for me it always reminds me of my own family tree, and the many relatives who appear there with a small asterisk – ‘died as a result of Nazism’. I find it hard to speak about, to think through the horrors of what happened. But I do find myself absolutely adamant that we must stop anything like it ever happening again. The quest for international human rights is what got me into politics in the first place.
Sadly, it has become a shorthand for almost anything bad that happens. Sometimes, discussion of Hitler and the Nazis has become so trivialised, that it has even given birth to the online rule of Godwin’s law – any discussion will eventually lead to a comparison to the Nazis or Hitler.
There are particular problems when discussing Israel and Palestine. There are particular sensitivities – especially when people conflate Israel’s current policies to the opinions of ‘the Jews’.
Despite my Jewish background, or more likely because of it, I am deeply critical of Israel’s approach. I have spoken out on this in Parliament, and visited Gaza to see for myself what the situation is like there. I think Israel’s current policies, around settlements, the treatment of Palestinian people, and so much more, are profoundly wrong. I think they are wrong in terms of international law and human rights, and I think they are wrong from the perspective of Israel’s own self-interest. Many in the diaspora, and even a number in Israel, share similar perspectives, and a determination to try to change this.
It is quite right to condemn the Holocaust, and to criticise Israel’s current behaviour. But quite wrong to say the two are one and the same.
* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15