I’m haunted by a heated argument that had a profound effect on a long-standing friendship.
It took place several years ago and I still can’t stop going over it in my head.
If you haven’t already guessed what the argument was about, you will as soon as I tell you that the friends are avid Guardian readers, and that one evening they started criticising Israel. Things soon went beyond the innuendo and the ‘was it or wasn’t it?’ veiled insult. Sadly, the whole thing deteriorated into a bit of a slanging match.
The passion that the BBC/Guardian’s anti-Zionist campaigning had engendered in highly intelligent people who had nothing to do with either Judaism or Islam, and had no connection whatsoever with the Middle East was quite staggering. The concept that the Guardian was an unreliable source of information about Jews, Israel or the Middle East was inconceivable to them. They were blithely unaware that since the days of Manchester Guardian, Beacon of Light, that organ of wisdom had drifted across a deep chasm.
With obdurate conviction they repeated multiple inaccuracies and falsehoods. They ‘knew’ that the legality of Israel is in doubt, because it was created in 1948 by kind permission of the British who lacked the authority to do any such thing. They ‘knew for a fact’ that thousands of indigenous Arabs were violently driven out of their homes by gun-toting European Jews.
They had utter contempt for the conduct of the Israeli government, citing the ominous-sounding mantra “What Israel is doing" (to the Palestinians) as thoughtlessly as Jenny Tonge who constantly bandies about that ubiquitous, meaningless drone. People use the phrase with the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ sleight of hand vagueness which suffices for specificity, because, let’s face it, what IS Israel doing to the Palestinians? Well, what?
Then one of the most memorable Guardianisms of all, the phrase “The holocaust industry”, was brought to bear. This is Guardianspeak for “the self-pitying whine cynically trotted out by Jews in order to silence debate.”
This interpretation was set out in no uncertain terms, not to be confused with a potentially alternative definition of the phenomenon.
Films and television have always been keen on holocaust stories, treating them with the mawkish, voyeuristic sentimentality that panders to our more self-indulgent emotions; the ones that that make the ‘misery memoir’ such a popular genre. I suppose the exploitation for commercial purposes of tales of the ultimate triumph-over-adversity fantasy, which give the viewer a chance, in their imagination, to share suffering and pain from the comfort of the hard-fought security of their own armchair, is something that could be called the holocaust industry.
When Israelis and Jews say “Never again”, that is not the holocaust industry.
The suggestion that our friends were using antisemitic language brought forth protestations of indignation.
Although they were conscious of the existence of “another narrative”, that narrative, whatever it was, must be dismissed as the work of the Jewish propaganda machine.
In a conciliatory moment they urged: “Well, you must admit it would be easier if Israel wasn’t there ”, which was generously taken to mean ‘in that particular location’ rather than ‘was annihilated.’
The reason I am recounting this tale is that Sunday is holocaust memorial day. Familiar, dreaded controversies invariably surround this annual occasion. The politically correct proposal that any commemoration should embrace “all” genocides, not be solely (“sui generis”) dedicated to one particular one, is always posited by Muslims who don’t wish to boycott the whole thing and appear openly antisemitic, yet don’t wish to look sympathetic to Jews in the eyes of their co-religionists by participating in the ceremony. What a dilemma.
Yesterday we heard a remarkable interview on the Today programme by John Humphrys with holocaust survivor Henia Bryer. It was a prolonged trailer for a film that will be shown on BBC 1 on Sunday. (tomorrow) John Humphrys was moved, and he questioned her with sincerity, sensitively and obvious sympathy.
It’s a great mystery how sympathy for Hitler’s Jewish victims differs so radically from the hardened unconcerned attitude society currently displays towards Islam’s Jewish victims.
Cognitive dissonance allows people to turn a blind eye to the similarities between the Nazi and the Islamic ideologies, and inexplicably lets them ignore the openly declared antisemitism within both.
While ignoring these obvious similarities, people nevertheless make demonstrably false analogies when they continually compare “what Israel is doing to the Palestinians” to “what the Nazis did to the Jews”. These throw-away remarks go unchallenged by closet antisemites and well-meaning ignoramuses who don’t even know they’re antisemites.
Logic says there is no actual comparison whatsoever between the deliberate cold-blooded extermination of six million scapegoats who passively took the blame for Germany’s failings, and the essential, protective measures Israel takes against the current genocidal aims of millions of brainwashed Arabs whose intention is to repeat the holocaust.
What country wouldn’t take precautions against suicide attacks, multiple rocket attacks and deadly infiltrations by knife wielding crazies.
Disregard the ‘disproportionate’ number of deaths involved. Six million civilians as opposed to an unclear number in the the low thousands is not the thing that constitutes the falseness of these comparisons - after all, the ‘disproportionate’ argument is their favourite cause for complaint, not mine.
The difference is in the intent. How can you compare the deliberate attempt to exterminate one innocent group of people with defensive or retaliatory measures taken by an attacked group?
Like the difference between the words Meerkat and Market, they’re entirely different things.
Here is David Ward MP, who’s trying to straddle two opposing concepts. Showing the obligatory sympathy for Jews murdered by Hitler, while appealing to the Muslim voters of Bradford
.“…I am saddened that the Jews…within a few years of liberation…inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel…daily basis…”
Inflicting atrocities? Have the Jews gassed six million Arabs while no-one was looking?
Chas Newky Burden makes this excellent point.
“Let us strip the “they-of-all-people” argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity.
Here’s Mark Gardner from the CST blog on this MP’s outburst:
“Here we have someone who has visited Auschwitz in both a personal and professional capacity. The assumption, therefore, must surely be that he is most certainly not an antisemite. So, he is not an antisemite, but what exactly ought we to call a Member of Parliament who makes a crass Jews in Israel equal Naziscomparison?”
I can only conclude that people who pretend to be pro-Palestinian to disguise their antipathy to Jews are dedicated to making wrong comparisons, but refuse to make the very comparison that is so obvious that missing it is farcical, outrageous, stupid and inexplicable.
Nevertheless, many people can’t join the minuscule number of dots between the Islamic and Nazi varieties of Jew-hatred, and while they’re at it, manage to overlook the Arabs’ loudly and clearly declared, widely disseminated genocidal aims. David Ward says:
“If all the illegal settlements were vacated and the land given back there wouldn’t be any rocket attacks”
If I cut off your head you wouldn’t have any more migraines, one might argue.
“Wouldn’t it be easier if Israel wasn’t there?” Our friends ask. It would be easier if we all lie down and submit, maybe. Easier perhaps than fighting your case, but maybe not the guaranteed pathway to an untroubled, Guardian-reading, happy-ever-after.