Voice of the Jewish News: Lessons of not standing by

Voice of the Jewish News: Lessons of not standing by

David Cameron’s speech at the Holocaust Education Trust dinner this week was one of his best.

This is all the more impressive, given that – for large chunks – it comprised some fairly standard fare.

He paid tributes to all those who deserved them: the HET, the survivors and wider community.

He spoke from the heart about his experiences in this area: telling his children about the Holocaust, meeting survivors and learning about the Shoah in school for the first time.

He pledged to visit Auschwitz next year and said Britain would never forget.

But it was when he spoke about Syria, and how his views on the Holocaust informed his foreign policy, that you could hear a pin drop.

The PM recently suffered a humiliating defeat in his bid to approve military action against Syria’s President Assad. He acknowledged as much.

He then went on to describe the natural reaction to “rationalise why we are powerless”. That immediately struck a deep chord.

“It’s an extraordinary human emotion,” he said. “But somehow, when genocide is taking place, the shame of not acting sometimes doesn’t quite register properly until afterwards.”

Looking back on the more recent horrors of Srebrenica and Rwanda, he added: “We wonder now why we didn’t do more at the time.”

He then described sitting on a beach in Cornwall with his family, watching reports of Syrian victims suffering agonising deaths in a gas attack, and spoke about what our “instinct” is to do in such situations.

It was brave stuff that carried a perfectly-balanced message: the lesson of not standing by, and of how that informs his view.

So we say well done not only to the remarkable HET for its excellent, essential work over the past 25 years, but also to the prime minister, for saying it as it is – and for helping to put sufficient pressure on Assad to begin the destruction of these most noxious of weapons.

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