Holocaust Memorial Day, and a response to David Ward

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

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  • This. Well said.

  • Leon Duveen 25th Jan '13 - 4:04pm

    Thank you Julian

  • Liberal Neil 25th Jan '13 - 4:07pm

    Very well put.

  • Brilliantly put Julian.

  • I Whittaker 25th Jan '13 - 5:24pm

    ‘the disabled’ are you taking the mickey? why are they always put last anyway when they were the ones who were murdered first? and in many places homosexuals and disabled people are still murdered now. taking another opportunity to criticise Israel in complete absence of acknowledgement of the role of the UK in formation not to mention present support and importance to UK interests of military alliance plus crimes committed by our own troops and our own whacked foreign policy, no sorry this response still not good enough, what’s needed was a full and unreserved apology from the man himself and if possible if I never have to hear about what’s like Hitler and the Nazis again.. unless it’s Rwanda we just do not need to hear it

  • paul barker 25th Jan '13 - 6:03pm

    An excellent post but I must admit I have problems with the idea of “The” Holocaust as though the last century wasnt littered with sustained, organised attempts to murder entire populations.
    From Turkey in 1915 to Cambodia in 1975 there was hardly any point where some Government wasnt trying to destroy some unwanted group or other. The only reason for elevating the Nazi holocaust to a special place was because it came so close to us & involved people who looked like us, both as victims & murderers.

    My family,s experience is unusual in involving both Communists (including me in my youth) & in another branch, people murdered by Communists, in this case Poles deported from what was then Eastern Poland.
    To me Liberalism is the defence against those ideas that lead us to see other people as members of a category instead of individuals.

  • Helen Dudden 25th Jan '13 - 7:01pm

    It is very frightening to think that the religion you believe in, could cause so much hate crime. Of course, there have been other forms of hate crime too. I think there are many who feel the same as you do.

    I think you were very brave to go and see for yourself, that could not have been an easy thing to do.

  • Robert Hamilton 25th Jan '13 - 7:48pm

    True, Paul, liberal individuals tend not to categorise or prejudge other individuals. There is in addition a sociological dimension to prejudice. A substantial proportion of the German people came to share the Nazi prejudices about Jews, and Australians about Aborigines, Americans about Indians, Serbs and Croats about each other.
    Prejudices flare up all the time. In the UK people are being drawn into attack thoughts about scroungers, and prejudice about Tories who believe they are above the plebs.
    I have hoped that on Holocaust Memorial Day as well as saying pity us, our Jews will say: “look what happens when you allow prejudices to spread. Let us all push away prejudice.”

  • Quite Paul – at least three genocide’s since 1945 (Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia) mean that HRD needs to be more than just about the 1940’s genocide(s)

    BTW – very good piece by Julian.

  • Very well said Julian.

  • That’s a fair response to David Ward.

    A lot fairer, unfortunately, than “This is a matter we take extremely seriously. The Liberal Democrats deeply regret and condemn the statement issued by David Ward and his use of language which is unacceptable.”

  • Holocaust memorial day is more than about remembering and determination not to repeat the atrocities of nazism in the lst century. the year I was most involved was when I was mayor, and the theme was about all atrocities, particularly against those who were “different”.
    David Ward is right to make the point about the appalling way that the state of Israel is treating Palestinians. I wish he had distinguished between the State of Israel and “Jews”, because as Julian says of himself, not all Jews are by any means supportive of what the State is doing. My heart goes out to those Jews who stand up against what Israel is doing in their name, as well, of course, to the suffering Palestinians who want no more than peace and the ability to make a living for themsleves and their family.

  • Matthew Thayer 26th Jan '13 - 1:33am

    There are many good points made in this discussion.
    Those made by Suzanne are of particular relevance.
    Not to distinguish between the actions of Israel and “jews” or “the jews” was a cardinal error.
    Julian mentions particular “sensitivities”. I’m not clear what those sensitivities are.
    I would suggest that there has been a tendency to put forward Israel as “representing” all jews.
    This appears to be a clear given amongst the most vociferous defenders of Israel’s policies.
    It then takes just a short leap of faith to conclude that criticism of Israel is therefore criticism of “the jews” and thus antisemitic. Suzanne mentions the predicament of “Jews who stand up against what Israel is doing in their name” . Is she referring to Israeli Jews or members of the Diaspora? If the Diaspora then this yet another example of this linkage which has crept into the debate on this issue.
    Notwithstanding his poor choice of words is not Mr Ward a victim of the antizionism =antisemitism brigade?
    Surely Israel does not represent the Jewish community as a whole but merely a section of it.

  • Anthony Hawkes 26th Jan '13 - 8:49am

    A very nice piece by Julian. I was a bit puzzled by the official Libdem response, “…deeply regret and condemn the statement issued by David Ward and his use of language which is unacceptable.” I thought, apparently as others do, that Mr Ward should have referred to Israel rather than Jews, but nevertheless the official reaction seemed a bit OTT.

  • The problem, I can see, with the use of the term “theJews”, as opposed to “the French” say, seems twofold – firstly, that historically Jewish people have lived as a diaspora, without a recognised country or single region where they are main inhabitants, and secondly and much more importantly, that along with the climax represented by the various pogroms and the Holocaust, Jews have been discriminated against, violated and expelled from their homes, often killed, over many centuries (only read Shakespeare for a taster). So, despite what I said in my post on the other thread on this topic, I would always use “the Israelis”, if I were referring to actions caused by political and military action in Israel.

    I can see the point Julian makes that the Holocaust and actions against Palestinians in Israel are not equivalent – Israel is not really genocidal. But I think it has a lot of moral equivalence with apartheid South Africa, not necessarily always in a legal sense, but there is a sense that if Arab neighbours or citizens try to claim equal status in various ways, they are quickly put “in their place”, whether that involves police, military, or any other action.

    I am sure, that like Julian, many of us joined the Lib Dems precisely because it seemed to be the party which believed in peace, fairness, justice and equal rights internationally and nationally. I don’t get the recent heavy-handed treatment of Jenny Tonge and others who have stood up for Palestinian rights in the Party – that has changed the tenor of the party in a similar way to other comments about not wanting those on the left in the party. I don’t like it, and neither do many others here.

  • coldcomfort 26th Jan '13 - 9:37am

    Why did Jennie Tonge have to go? Why should David Ward go? Anthony Hawkes is right – OK Ward should have said the Government of Israel and not Jews, since there are millions of Jews who are as horrified at what Israel has been doing for close on 40yrs as the rest of us. Otherwise his statement was a very moderate, simple, statement of fact. It’s time the LibDem leadership wised up to the fact that Israel – especially with it’s present lurch to the right – is about as illiberal as it is possible for an intelligent & democratic state to get.

  • @Helen Dudden
    “I think you were very brave to go and see for yourself, that could not have been an easy thing to do.”

    Presumably you are referring to Julian Huppert’s visit to see for himself what life was like in Gaza.
    Oh dear, does the idea of witnessing the sufferings of one race inflicted by another (in this case, his own) offend your sensibilities?

  • Martin Pierce 26th Jan '13 - 12:05pm

    I thought about Julian’s comments, and David Ward’s, quite a bit before posting this. Julian puts it all very well – as he always does – I am proud that he is my MP. But it also seems to me that there’s not much more than a cigarette paper between the essential criticism of Israel that both make (albeit Julian puts it rather more elegantly). It is certainly easier to be allowed to say these things if you have a Jewish background, but I think we need to allow other people to speak as they find (Jenny Tonge too – a former MP of mine too when I lived in Richmond, who famously put a picture of the West Bank wall on the front cover of her annual report to voters one year). The main criticism I would have of David is that he referred to ‘the Jews’ rather than the Israeli state – although it’s an understandable elision given that the state of Israel was set up as a homeland specifically for Jewish people. Anyone who has followed David will know he has spent time out in Israel/West Bank and seen at first hand what the conditions are that Palestinians live in – as has Julian – and it seems they have come to similar conclusions. I agree with David Allen that the response of the party seemed disproportionate and – as with Jenny – overly keen not to upset Israel, and underly keen to set out a robust critique of what Israel is doing.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 26th Jan '13 - 4:20pm

    Those interested in this may find it useful and interesting to have a look at this
    A Jew living in Israel talking about his views and finding out real facts

  • Under Israeli law, Arab Israelis have exactly the same rights as Jews or anyone else; Muslims have the same rights as Jews or Christians; Baha’is, severely persecuted in Iran, flourish in Israel, where they have their world center; Ahmadi Muslims, severely persecuted in Pakistan and elsewhere, are kept safe by Israel; the holy places of all religions are protected under a specific Israeli law. Arabs form 20% of the university population (an exact echo of their percentage in the general population).
    In Iran, the Bahai’s (the largest religious minority) are forbidden to study in any university or to run their own universities: ? Arabs in Israel can go anywhere they want, unlike blacks in apartheid South Africa. They use public transport, they eat in restaurants, they go to swimming pools, they use libraries, they go to cinemas alongside Jews – something no blacks were able to do in South Africa.
    Israeli hospitals not only treat Jews and Arabs, they also treat Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank. On the same wards, in the same operating theaters.
    In Israel, women have the same rights as men: there is no gender apartheid. Gay men and women face no restrictions, and Palestinian gays often escape into Israel, knowing they may be killed at home.
    Why no condemnation of Palestinian Hamas terrorism?
    On visits to Gaza have you noticed that there are no Israelis there? That Jews have no rights there? That there are no synagogues alongside the mosques. Why? Would Mr Ward condemn President Morsi regarding his statement in 2010 that the Jews are descendants of apes and pigs? If you are going to criticise do so even evenhandedly.

  • Matthew Huntbach 26th Jan '13 - 10:31pm

    On this issue I generally find the behaviour and words of the Israelis makes me feel sympathetic to the Palestinians and the behaviour and words of the Palestinians makes me feel sympathetic to the Israelis.

    I’m afraid when I hear some Iseltinian moaning and wailing about the latest atrocity caused by the Palesraelis, and saying how evil and bad it is, and concluding that all that is needed is to inflict yet more violence on the Pisrestians, and then of course they’d learn and shut up, I can’t help thinking “You stupid Iselretians, if you can see that their atrocities on you don’t cause you to say ‘OK, we’ll just be nice to you in future’, why can’t you get it into your head that maybe the Pilaerilians are much the same as you in that respect?”

    I’ll listen when I find people on the one side expressing grief and sorrow at the violence and hurt of the OTHER side. I.e. waving your own shrouds does nothing to me – but waving the other side’s might.

    Meanwhile, I quite agree, nasty though all this is, just WHY do we hear SO much about the atrocities and violence going on here, compared to atrocities and violence on a greater scale happening to many more people elsewhere in the world, and sometimes not that far away? Most of the Christian community has been forced out of Iraq in recent years, they sought refuge in Syria, now the Christian community is being forced out of Syria. The silence from those whose religion it is that is forcing these people out – compared to their noisy demonstrations in favour of their co-religionists – in Palestine is deafening. I think in fact the numbers being forced out of Iraq and Syria are somewhat larger than the number of Palestinians forced out of Israel since 1948.

  • There seems to be an impression that Holocaust Memorial Day is entirely about Jewish victims of the Nazis. There may be places where it’s given this feel, but my experience is profoundly different. I attended an occasion when Jewish and non-Jewish victims of extermination policies were remembered – for example Gypsies. What is more, the meeting was addressed by a Bosnian Muslim who had been in a Bosnian Serb concentration camp. He spoke movingly and I saw in the faces of the Jewish representatives a profound sympathy and sadness, that such things still happened.

  • It’s quite interesting what you did there, Matthew. You told people not to wave their own shrouds, and then you went straight on to complain about the treatment of Christians in Iraq and Syria. I suppose it’s only human nature.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jan '13 - 8:36pm


    It’s quite interesting what you did there, Matthew. You told people not to wave their own shrouds, and then you went straight on to complain about the treatment of Christians in Iraq and Syria. I suppose it’s only human nature

    Yes, I was aware of this issue – and I would not have put it this way had the Middle Eastern Christians been fleeing after cruel treatment to the Muslims on their own part. My objection was to people who wave their own shrouds while engaging in actions that cause others to have shrouds to wave, which is not the case with the Middle Eastern Christians.

    As it happened, during the time the IRA was actively involved in terrorism, I felt as a Catholic I had a particular duty to condemn them. Not that the IRA ever claimed to be fighting for Catholicism, but because they were identified with this religion, and its leading members claimed to practice it. I felt therefore that I had some duty to defend my religion by pointing out my own view that what they were doing as completely against what it stands for.

  • Helen Dudden 27th Jan '13 - 9:09pm

    Sean Blake, I meant to be brave enough to admit, and be seen to be admitting that you have a Jewish connection. There is some narrow minded thoughts on those who have the tradition and religion, that is what I meant. Not all agree with what is happening in Gaza, there are many who do not agree.

    We should not, in the perfect world even be writing this. I won’t waste my time in arguments, on the subject.

  • daniel gury 5th Feb '13 - 2:48pm

    Hello everyone I would like to suggest a movie about the Holocaust, Hitler’s Children Documentary

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