Peer says community ‘steamrollered’ into backing Westminster Shoah memorial

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Peer says community ‘steamrollered’ into backing Westminster Shoah memorial

Baroness Deech also voices concern over 'day trips to Auschwitz' during JW3 panel to mark the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, appearing alongside Robert Rinder and Rachel Riley

Jenni Frazer is a freelance journalist

Proposed design of Westminster Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens
Proposed design of Westminster Holocaust Memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens

The leading Jewish peer, Baroness Deech, has expressed “increasing unease” about the direction of Holocaust education, particularly “day trips to Auschwitz”, and says that children do not emerge with proper or contextual knowledge of the contributions of Jews to the world.

Lady Deech, a cross bench peer and lawyer, is a passionate opponent of the proposed British Holocaust memorial in Westminster. She was one of three star panellists marking the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht on Monday evening at JW3, and used the occasion to tell the packed audience that “building a memorial [to the Holocaust] will not do the trick”, instead declaring that it allowed opportunist politicians to “put the Holocaust in a box”, signing a declaration once a year and have their photographs taken, and feeling satisfaction that the issue was dealt with.

The baroness later told Jewish News that she believed the community was being “steamrollered” into supporting the Westminster Holocaust memorial, which she felt was becoming “nastily politicised”.

Each of the panellists — Baroness Deech, together with TV celebrities Robert Rinder and Rachel Riley — had agreed to mark Kristallnacht by speaking about antisemitism. Trudy Gold, consultant head of Holocaust studies at JW3, provided a historical context for Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” in November 1938, for which, she reminded the audience, Jews were fined a billion marks, to pay for the clean-up of the destruction of their own shops and community buildings.

Robert Rinder, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor who became one of “The Boys”, the group of young men and women who arrived in Britain in 1945, has just made a documentary for the BBC about the Holocaust which will be screened next year. Better known as “Judge Rinder” for his popular daytime TV court show, Mr Rinder gave a trenchant presentation in which he urged the community to become “better advocates” in putting the case and interests of Jews. “We need to be better, and we can”, he declared.

He elicited gasps from the audience with an anecdote about a well-known acquaintance who, he said, was a regular on UK TV, who had said that “Brexit was caused by the Jews” — though he refused to identify this person.

Pasha Kovalev, Rachel Riley, Robert Rinder and Baroness Deech

Mr Rinder said there were better ways to deal with antisemites on social media. “We should say, I hear what you say, I’m sorry you think that, let me tell you a story [about Jewish contribution to British life],” he said.

Rachel Riley, presenter of the Countdown TV programme, described her own experience at the hands of antisemitic abusers on Twitter and Facebook. She is currently involved in libel actions against a number of her attackers. She admitted she had not been prepared for the level of abuse: “It went from being manageable to the state where I simply couldn’t look at it.”

Nevertheless, she said she was now putting her energies into two “lifelines”, projects aimed at combating antisemitism. One was “Stop Funding Fake News”, which was having success in highlighting abusive websites; and the other is the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, a London-based initiative aimed at helping people deal with “trolls”, whose aim is only to push people into disseminating their racially abusive messages.

Sadly, she added: “If all you ever hear is the extreme, that becomes the norm.”






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