Across Britain, at respectful ceremonies, we stand silently to remember the victims of the Holocaust. Some are fortunate enough to hear the testimony of the courageous Holocaust survivors who brave their pain to recount their experiences during the Holocaust, day after day at schools around the country so that our children may grow up understanding the barbaric terrors that bigotry can unleash.
The message from Holocaust survivors has always been simple. Evil always lurks just below the surface. It thrives on indifference. We must never forget. We must never again permit evil to come to power. It is a message that drove the decades-long anti-racist campaigns that established the tolerance and equality that underpins Western society.
Yet at Holocaust remembrance ceremonies, we will permit some to go through the motions of commemorating the Holocaust, whilst openly and fiercely supporting those whose goal is to perpetrate a new one.
Take for example Jeremy Corbyn, who, as an avowed “anti-racist” and Leader of the Opposition, has a prominent place at Holocaust remembrance ceremonies. Last year, as in every year, he says the words, this year managing to do so without mentioning Jews or antisemitism: “We should never forget the Holocaust: The millions who died, the millions displaced and cruel hurt their descendants have suffered.”
But whilst Mr Corbyn goes through the motions, I cannot believe that he has learned the lessons that Holocaust survivors have so desperately and resolutely tried to instil. For this same Mr Corbyn spent decades in political obscurity hosting and consorting with antisemites and terrorists. He was not merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, he sought them out, hosting blood-libeller Raed Salah for tea in Parliament after he slipped into the country despite an exclusion order, and writing to the Church of England to defend the notorious Reverend Stephen Sizer, who had claimed that an Israeli conspiracy was behind 9/11.
Now that he has emerged into the political spotlight, Mr Corbyn has not changed his spots. I recall watching David Cameron asking him to condemn Hamas and Hizballah four times at Prime Minister’s Questions, and Mr Corbyn defiantly refusing to do so, having previously called them “friends” whom he had sought to host in Parliament. We all know that Hamas and Hizballah are terrorist organisations, but in addition to their terrorist activities in the Middle East, both groups aspire to complete the Nazis’ goal by eradicating Jews worldwide. Hamas’ charter is clear that “The hour of judgment shall not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them” and Hizballah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has been quoted by the New York Times saying: “If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.” These are no idle words; Hizballah has used bombs to murder Jews around the world, even setting off bombs in London.
Mr Corbyn cannot have learned the lessons of the Holocaust if he seeks out the friendship of genocidal antisemitic terrorists. If Mr Corbyn is “friends” with, and will not condemn, organisations that explicitly seek the demise of the Jewish people, then he should have no leadership role on Holocaust Memorial Day.
Mr Corbyn is not alone, or even the worst offender. Some of those who attend public ceremonies on Holocaust Memorial Day seem to think that having done so is a salve against accusations of antisemitism. Ken Livingstone, who has repeatedly and unashamedly claimed that Hitler “was supporting Zionism” used Holocaust Memorial Day as though it were an antidote when he was brought before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into antisemitism, responding to allegations by telling the committee that “As London Mayor, I hosted, took part in and promoted events to mark the annual Holocaust Memorial Day.” The problem is also not limited to the Labour Party. It pervades certain sections of our polity. For example, Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party has said that supporting Hamas is not “intrinsically wrong” whilst penning doubtlessly heartfelt articles articulating her anguish on Holocaust Memorial Day. I cannot imagine her claiming that support for the Nazis was not “intrinsically wrong” if motivated by a desire for German emancipation.
Holocaust Memorial Day must be about the lessons of the Holocaust, not merely an exercise in recounting facts and figures. Holocaust survivors are passing the baton to us now. We must not betray them by allowing supporters of those who seek a new Holocaust to lay wreaths on Holocaust Memorial Day, or even worse use it as a means by which to cynically shield themselves from allegations of antisemitism.
Gideon Falter is Chairman of Campaign Against Antisemitism