OPINION: Right place for national memorial, whatever certain type of person says
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

OPINION: Right place for national memorial, whatever certain type of person says

The chair of the Holocaust Memorial Commission of the UK responds to the founder of a group against the memorial who called it a 'vanity project' backed by 'a certain type of Jew'

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick (right), holocaust survivor Sir Ben Helfgott and his grandson Reuben at Victoria Gardens in Westminster, London, celebrating the go-ahead being given to a Holocaust memorial. Picture date: Thursday July 29, 2021.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick (right), holocaust survivor Sir Ben Helfgott and his grandson Reuben at Victoria Gardens in Westminster, London, celebrating the go-ahead being given to a Holocaust memorial. Picture date: Thursday July 29, 2021.

The Westminster Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre, approved last week, will be an invaluable resource for Holocaust education for generations to come. The overwhelming majority of UK Holocaust survivors and educators celebrated the government’s announcement and I was delighted for them. 

Sir Mick Davis

There has been vociferous opposition from some quarters and, sadly, it seems this will continue. I have rebutted their arguments previously and, given the decision just handed down, ordinarily I would follow the wisdom of the Arabic proverb: “the dog barks, but the caravan moves on”.  But the narrative and language used by some of the memorial’s opponents are so egregious that they cannot be allowed to stand.

Barbara Weiss, co-founder of one group opposing the plans called the memorial a “vanity project” backed by “a certain type of Jewish person”. Lord Feldman, Gerald Ronson and I, according to Weiss, are this certain type of Jew. For good measure, she opined that David Cameron did this simply as “a way of appeasing Jewish donors”.  

I chaired the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission that recommended the building of the memorial. Far from being any Conservative Party donor’s diktat, the Commission’s report was based on evidence from an astonishing array of universities, schools, survivors’ groups, scholars and educators. 

One idea recurred more than any other: to memorialise the Holocaust and educate about it more effectively we need a prominent national memorial and learning centre. 

Westminster is the most appropriate location. Some suggested the Imperial War Museum, already home to an impressive Holocaust exhibition. This miscasts the Holocaust’s victims as combatants or participants in war. They were not. The Holocaust was not a product of war, but of 2,000 years of abuse, compromised liberties and hatred given free rein by the breakdown of democracy. 

That is why a site alongside the mother of all parliaments – a symbol of democracy, rights and freedoms – is the right place. 

The suggestion, however, that this was a top-down process at the behest of Jewish donors is not only wrong but comes dangerously close to antisemitic tropes about the proximity of Jews to power. That someone can evoke these age-old tropes in this specific debate merely vindicates the need for the memorial in as prominent a location as possible.

Regardless of how many Jewish friends a person has, or the origins of their family name, the very phrase “a certain type of Jewish person” does not belong in considered and constructive public discourse, but in the mouth of a certain type of person.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments