Ed Balls and Lord Pickles defend Shoah memorial plans after peers’ criticism

Ed Balls and Lord Pickles defend Shoah memorial plans after peers’ criticism

Co-chairs of the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre opposite Parliament hit back after eight Jewish peers criticise the plans

Front view of the chosen design for the Holocaust memorial
Front view of the chosen design for the Holocaust memorial

Two senior political heavyweights have lambasted eight Jewish peers for deriding the Government’s planned new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre opposite Parliament, in an explosive open row.

Labour’s Ed Balls and Tory peer Lord (Eric) Pickles, two former cabinet ministers who now co-chair the foundation behind the project, hit out against their Jewish detractors in an exclusive opinion piece for Jewish News this week.

The pair said peers’ objections were two and a half years too late, that they had “fundamentally misunderstood” the process, and that the idea of searching for another “non-existent better site” now would be a waste of money.

It follows a letter published in The Times on Tuesday in which the nobles, some of whom lost family in the Shoah, said the £100 million memorial plans for Victoria Tower Gardens Royal Park “evoke neither the Holocaust nor Jewish history”.

In a stinging blow, the signatories – including TV executive Lord (Michael) Grade, bioethicist Baroness (Ruth) Deech and Lib Dem grandee Lord (Monroe) Palmer – said the centrepiece recommendation from David Cameron’s Holocaust Commission should be scrapped, with money reallocated to Holocaust education instead. 

Yet Balls and Pickles said their critics “betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the status of the drawings,” released last month for consultation, as the peers took aim at the winning design from architect Sir David Adjaye and Anglo-Israeli sculptor Ron Arad.

“As peers who lost close family members in the Holocaust or were deeply affected by it, we write in support of the letter objecting to the location and design of the planned Holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens,” the peers said.

  • READ MORE: Ed Balls and Lord Pickles: ‘No other memorial site comes close to its symbolism and significance’

    “The design evokes neither the Holocaust nor Jewish history. The risk is that its purpose will not be obvious to passers-by and it will not be treated with appropriate respect.” They added that while they supported Cameron’s aim to fund a new memorial, objections to the current proposal were “well-founded”.

    While local residents and environmentalists have previously raised concerns about the project, for which the Government is coughing up £50 million, Jewish community representatives have whole-heartedly backed plans to dig up part of the small park next to Parliament in order to build a partially subterranean memorial.

    The peers’ intervention will now provide a boost to critics arguing that the Conservative Government railroaded the plans through despite objections, but Pickles and Balls said the time to raise objections was more than two years ago, when they were debated.

    Other signatories include former P&O chairman Lord (Jeffrey) Sterling, textiles magnate Lord (Simon) Haskel, Hampstead businessman Lord (Parry) Mitchell, gastroenterologist Lord (Leslie) Turnberg, and former Lib Dem QC Lord Carlile, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation.

The peers’ jointly written letter

In their letter, they warned that “the intentions will be undermined if it is erected despite the well-founded protests from neighbours, or if it is seen, quite wrongly, as conveying an impression of national guilt”.

They added: “The aims need to be thought through. There are other memorials and learning centres in this country, such as in Hyde Park, the Imperial War Museum and Newark; and yet antisemitism and disproportionate hatred of Israel are rising, most shockingly among the young, who have had Holocaust education at school.

“It would be far better to redeploy the £50 million allocated to the new scheme to a smaller, simpler memorial in Westminster, enhancement of the Imperial Museum project and to further study of the impact of Holocaust learning and memorials.”

But Pickles and Balls said Victoria Tower Gardens was “the best place” and “already the home to memorials that celebrate the fight against slavery, inequality and injustice… A Holocaust Memorial is a perfect fit to this long established theme”.

They said its position “on the street of power in London” was apt because “it was here that the British response to the Holocaust was formulated and enacted”.

Later in their article, in a burst of barely-disguised anger, Pickles and Balls said: “Their Lordships, as lawmakers, know the importance of acting timely and prudently. It is not timely to revisit a decision taken two and a half years ago nor would it be prudent to expend public money on a fruitless search for a non-existent better site.”

Board of Deputies Vice President Edwin Shuker said: “We continue to welcome the planned Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre as a fitting testament to the evils of unchecked racism and populism, which is sadly topical again in our day. The innovative design, and its location right beside Parliament – the home of our democracy – will give the poignant reminder of what can happen when political power is abused and minorities scapegoated.”

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