Holocaust Memorial Day - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 12:35 pm ar 2 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Fox of Buckley Baroness Fox of Buckley Non-affiliated 12:35, 2 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, 136: I shall repeat the number 136 because on Wednesday Ashley Waxman Bakshi asked a packed room of parliamentarians to keep reminding the world that there are still 136 hostages in Gaza, including Ashley’s cousin Agam Berger.

We are here today for Holocaust Memorial Day to keep the memory of the decades-old Holocaust alive. Yet, shockingly, even the memory of what happened on 7 October last year is already fading. That is why so many of the powerful, moving and insightful speeches that we have all heard today really matter. The largest anti-Jewish pogrom since the Holocaust is actively and wilfully being forgotten, and even denied. Indeed, when some seek to remind the world of the hostages—by, for example, putting up posters of their faces—they are treated with contempt and openly subjected to anti-Semitic abuse. Posters are venomously ripped down. One viral video shows an activist responding to a plea for humane empathy with Jewish suffering. His response was to spit out the question, “Where’s your proof?”

Sadly, such echoes of Holocaust denial are making a comeback. Indeed, the reason why Ashley and the other remarkable Israeli witnesses whom some of us heard this week are forced to tour the world’s capitals to give testimony is that—and this is a real shock—so many in official positions have demanded proof that sexual violence was used on 7 October. Often the very same progressives, NGOs and international women’s organisations that rail against #MeToo incidents and demand support for their violence against women and girls initiatives suddenly become sceptical and mute and look the other way, even with evidence that Jewish women and girls were gang-raped, sexually mutilated and degraded. This casual mood of denial was revealed in the shocking recent Economist/YouGov poll showing that more than one-fifth of young Americans agreed that the Holocaust was a myth, while many responded by saying they were not sure whether it was a myth.

Until recently, Holocaust denial was a fringe affair: the racist preoccupation of explicit anti-Semites who called it a hoax, usually associated with the far right. But today a more common form of Holocaust denial is to rip the Holocaust from its concrete and specific context and appropriate it for a range of nefarious ends. This dilution of the meaning of the Holocaust is often espoused by well-intentioned social justice warriors. The Holocaust is anything but absent from political discourse—that is one irony. The Holocaust and its perpetrators, the Nazis, are now prolifically referenced, but I am not sure that this constant go-to metaphor is that helpful. Social media is littered with people smearing their political opponents as Nazis. Newsweek headlined an article:

“Just How Similar is Donald Trump to Adolf Hitler?”— and such an approach is commonplace.

Policies that people do not like are routinely denounced using Nazi analogies. The Rwanda plan has been compared by some campaigners to herding Jews on to cattle trucks destined for the camps. I have heard the Tories’ voter ID scheme being compared to Gestapo checks. Everything from the Brexit vote to anti-ULEZ protests has recently been denounced as proof that society is descending into 1930s-style fascism. Some animal rights activists claim that the meat industry is guilty of a holocaust of lambs, cows and chickens, while abortion fundamentalists brandish literature denouncing a holocaust of unborn babies.

I worry that when the Holocaust, as a metaphor, is so promiscuously and prolifically used that it will mean we render the Holocaust itself mundane, inevitably relativising its gravity and uniqueness. So often, it can also lead to airbrushing Jews from the story. We saw that with a number of politicians, as the noble Lord, Lord Austin, illustrated, who put out video messages on Holocaust Memorial Day and failed to mention the Jews. They were just forgotten, deliberately or not.

As many noble Lords have mentioned, we have to admit that the Holocaust has now been weaponised, specifically to attack and delegitimise the world’s only Jewish state. We have heard that from a number of noble Lords. I will not repeat their examples, but just cite the idea of young radical peace protestors unapologetically carrying placards with the star of David inside a swastika.

This relativism that now turns the barbarities of the Holocaust into an accusation against the Jewish state considers itself progressive and, worse, is mainstream. One popular progressive commentator, that Dr Shola off the telly, tweeted at the Auschwitz museum:

“I unfollowed you after your disgraceful endorsement of Israel’s extermination, ethnic cleansing & genocide of Palestinians. The museum should be ashamed of itself. Never again means never again for anyone. You’re an embarrassment to humanity”.

Think about those words. Inevitably, Dr Shola was never off the TV after she posted that.

So how should we tackle such ignorant attitudes? For many, the answer is education. As a former teacher, this makes me nervous, as too many thorny questions are outsourced to schools and colleges. Anyway, it is not that simple. After all, the Holocaust is already a compulsory part of the national curriculum and has been since 1991. One concern is that the Holocaust is rarely explained in educational settings as a specific policy designed to purge society of Jewry. Pupils rarely grasp that this was the first, and so far the only, time in history that a state attempted to murder every single member of a people—the Jews. Instead, such is the enthusiasm to make the Holocaust relatable for today’s pupils that there is a whole list of other victims, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, explained so well, often at the expense of a factual, detailed account of the Nazis’ industrialised final solution for Jews. This was more than just authoritarian rule or human rights abuses; it was an attempt at eradicating the Jews.

This drive to make the Holocaust relevant in schools today for pupils has also led to an embrace of concepts associated with identity politics. In trying to make Holocaust education so relevant as to reflect the diversity of each and every pupil, students are asked to imagine themselves as persecuted by evil Nazis—victims due to their individual identity. In the midst of this mêlée, I am afraid that Jews barely get a mention or are known about.

Fuelling relevance via identity politics is a trend, by the way, that is infecting the whole curriculum and can counterproductively encourage competitive victimhood. I remember that, in 2004, a poll carried out in nine European countries by Ipsos found that 35% of people thought the Jews should stop playing the role of Holocaust victims. Since then, often via official educational initiatives, every identity group has been encouraged to view themselves through the prism of their historic victimhood, from slavery to colonialism. Parallel to this, teachers and lecturers have embraced the idea that centuries of western accomplishments should be disparaged and demonised as hateful expressions of white supremacy.

Identitarian ideology has been given an intellectual veneer as decolonisation theory that divides the world into victims versus colonisers. Equality, diversity and inclusion policies institutionalise the divisive focus on skin colour, ethnicity and victimhood across schools and universities. This toxic mix creates a hierarchy of oppression through which, importantly, anti-Jewish hatred is justified. In the EDI schema, Jews have been designated as all-powerful colonisers, the ultimate expression of white privilege and the rightful targets of contempt and hostility among the young and anyone who cares about the oppressed.

To confuse the educational landscape further, identity politics makes it hard to be open in classroom debate about such issues. It can, for example, make it difficult to challenge any young Muslim pupils and students if they express sympathy with Islamist anti-Semitism. A decade ago, when I was giving a lesson on free speech, a vocal group of Muslim sixth-formers told me that 9/11 was a Jewish plot and that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was justified because the cartoonists had insulted the Prophet Muhammad. They also, by the way, bullied fellow Muslim classmates into silence—the kind of young people who the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, rightly referred to as the heroes and the hope of this story.

When I told this story about what had happened in the classroom to a group of teachers, some admitted that such attitudes were one reason they shied away from teaching the Holocaust. They feared that any confrontations if students put forward conspiratorial Holocaust-denial theories would mean that they, as teachers, would be branded Islamophobes—self-censorship to avoid causing offence, or even fear of more aggressive responses. Noble Lords have already mentioned Mike Freer; let me also reference the Batley Grammar School teacher who is still in hiding for fear of his life.

Before we open more learning centres or do more education-related projects, at the very least we need to ensure that educators are not silenced, cancelled or smeared for teaching truths that some identity groups find unpalatable. To ensure that the Holocaust is not forgotten and is understood, it needs to be resituated back into its unique historical context and dragged out of the jaws of identity politics and diversity dogma.

For now, the greatest memorial to the Holocaust must surely be solidarity with Jewish people, wherever and whenever they are being attacked because they are Jews. I finish by repeating “136, 136”—let us shout it to the rafters until those 136 hostages are brought home, and then Holocaust Memorial Day will be more than a slogan.