Sunday, January 27, 2013

Types of Antisemitism: "They of all people" and David Ward MP

This will be an occasional series, at times when I discover a new (to me) type of antisemitism.
One such type has just been manifested by a British Liberal Democrat MP, David Ward. The International Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust is tomorrow, January 27 - this date was chosen because on January 27, 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz. In a Book of Commitment placed at the House of Commons for MPs to sign, Ward wrote:
Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.
In order to publicize this statement, he wrote on his own website, as well as tweeting: "Bradford East MP, David Ward, has criticised Israel on the day he has signed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, in doing so pledging his commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who died during the Holocaust and in subsequent genocides." (Quotes taken from the article on the CST blog, by Mark Gardner).

The first offensive part of Ward's statement is that he holds "the Jews" responsible for "atrocities" committed on Palestinians both at the founding of the state of Israel and continuing to this day. He's saying that "the Jews," that monolithic entity, have been harming Palestinians since the establishment of the state. All Jews? Some Jews? Just Jews in Israel? Or perhaps just Israeli leaders, or Israeli soldiers?

Ward has issued a "clarification" explaining which Jews he really meant:
Asked if he accepted that he was accusing Jews, rather than the Israeli state, of inflicting persection on the Palestinians, he replied: "I'm accusing the Jews who did it, so if you're a Jew and you did not do it I'm not accusing you. I'm saying that those Jews who did that and continue to do it have not learned those lessons. If you are a Jew and you do not do those things and have never done those things then I am of course not criticising you."
I'm reminded of John Mearsheimer's abhorrent "New Afrikaners" speech, where he took upon himself to judge which Jews adhered to his moral standards and which were outside the pale of normal morality.

The second offensive part of Ward's statement is that he seems to regard the Holocaust not as an unparalleled attempt to exterminate an entire people, but as a kind of moral learning experience for the Jewish people, an experience which they have flunked. "The Jews" apparently should have learned particular moral lessons from the Holocaust, especially the Christian messages of "turn the other cheek," "love your enemies," and "pray for your persecutors." The Jews who survive the Holocaust should have learned these messages while their entire families were being tortured and murdered by mass shootings in the Soviet Union, while they were being forced into ghettos, starved, overworked, and vulnerable to illnesses, while they were being taken on trains from all over Europe to the gas chambers in the death camps in Poland, and there brutally murdered, with no grave to mark their bodies.

Ward doubtless believes that his words were intended to, and did in fact, help the Palestinian cause, but he is absolutely wrong. Do the Palestinians need British MPs making antisemitic remarks on their behalf? Does it help the cause of Palestinian freedom from Israeli oppression to blame "the Jews" for failing to learn the correct lessons of Auschwitz? Of course not. While Ward thought that he was helping the Palestinians, all he was actually doing was venting his spleen against "the Jews." He was expressing his resentment that for all the years since the end of the Second World War it has been outside the pale of polite society to express what he really thinks about Jews.

Chas Newkey-Burden has the best, last word about Ward's ridiculous argument:
Let us strip the "they-of-all-people" argument down to its very basics: gentiles telling Jews that we killed six million of your people and that as a result it is you, not us, who have lessons to learn; that it is you, not us, who need to clean up your act. It is an argument of atrocious, spiteful insanity. Do not accept it; turn it back on those who offer it. For it is us, not you, who should know better.
Good articles denouncing and analyzing Ward's statements:

The Soupy One has a good commentary and running update on Ward's offensive statements.

From Chas Newkey-Burden: http://www.oyvagoy.com/2013/01/26/david-ward-mp-plays-the-you-of-all-people-card/.

An earlier column by Howard Jacobson in the Independent explains Ward's rhetorical strategy very well:
Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy ....  is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged ("You, of all people") with failing to live up to it. By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn't. "Jews know more than anyone that killing civilians is wrong," resounds an unmistakably authorial voice in The Promise. Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors.
Another earlier article by David Hirsh also explains this rhetorical strategy, The Jews Should Know Better.
I hate the "Jews should know better" argument on so many different levels. 
Liberal Democrat member of the European Parliament for the North West of England Chris Davies is proud of the following quote, which he has put on his website:
"I visited Auschwitz last year and it is very difficult to understand why those whose history is one of such terrible oppression appear not to care that they have themselves become oppressors."
The Jews "appear not to care that they have themselves become oppressors". He does mean "the Jews", doesn't he? He is talking about "those whose history is of such terrible oppression", who came to his mind when he visited Auschwitz. Yes. He means Jews. Jews used to be oppressed; now they are oppressors, and they don't even care (apparently). 
This is just careless racist generalisation from a Liberal Democrat Euro MP who ought to know better. He holds all Jews collectively responsible for what he understands as the "oppressive" acts of the Israeli government. He shifts focus from acts that he understands as "oppressive" to "the Jews" that he understands as responsible for them and he calls them "oppressors". And then he adds that "the Jews" (apparently) don't care. As though "the Jews" spoke with one voice (or cared with a single conscience). 
The overwhelming majority of the Jews who were at Auschwitz (where Davies visited as a tourist, or perhaps as a VIP) left that place through the chimney. Many of them, I suspect, did not have time to sit down and ponder the lessons that they were supposed, by this smug Liberal Democrat MEP, to have been learning. 
What were the lessons being taught to "the Jews" at Auschwitz? What should "the Jews" have learnt from the Shoah experience? In an earlier post, I argued that many Jews actually did learn the central lesson that the 20th Century seemed to be teaching everybody: "If you don't have a nation state of your own, then you have no rights". 
Marc Goldberg also has written a very good op-ed piece for the Times of Israel. His last three paragraphs:
Criticising Jews for not learning enough about loving their fellow man whilst being the victims of a death machine the likes of which the world has never seen is beyond the pale. Unlike being a victim of out and out anti Jewish violence this purposeful conflation of Jews with the very worst human scum is something that I have been in contact with often in the UK. 
In short it’s not enough for a Jew to stand up and point out an incident of anti-Semitism but now they have to go get down to the nuts and bolts of every statement to which they might feel offended and explain why and then argue the point as if it is a political opinion. Uniquely among ethnic minorities in the UK Jews have to actually argue with people as to their right to feel offended and explain right down to the minutiae just why a person’s comments are offensive. 
I know that I certainly find this rather infuriating and unfair. I think MPs such as David Ward might want to remember that the Holocaust wasn’t some kind of cathartic communal learning experience nor was it the great event that allowed us to get our own country, the Holocaust was systematic death, nothing to do with Israel, nothing to do with Palestine everything to do with Jews and certainly not an excuse for him, or anyone else to label us all as Nazis.
Matthew Harris also wrote a good article denouncing Ward. His last paragraph:
Nothing that has happened in Israel/Palestine is so bad as to stand comparison with the genocidal murder of millions of Jews and other people in the Holocaust. To compare Israel's treatment of the Palestinians (or some Palestinians' hatred of Israelis) with what happened in Nazi death camps is to misunderstand the former and to trivialise the latter. Also, to suggest that Jewish suffering in the Holocaust means that Jews should now know better than to behave as badly as everyone else behaves is to hold Jews to a higher standard than others are held to, with the Holocaust thus becoming not a cause of sympathy for "the Jews", but another reason to criticise "the Jews" - and that stinks.
Paul David Evans, THE HOLOCAUST AND DAVID WARD MP. One excellent paragraph among many:
In a stroke such analogies belittle the suffering of the past, obscure our understanding of the present and most dangerously, suggest a kind of retroactive collective responsibility should be carried by Jewish people for their own suffering. “Yes,” they say “Jews suffered…” – you can smell the caveat coming, can’t you? “But look at the suffering they have caused too! Can they really be called victims? Unlike perpetrators of that genocide, Jews haven’t even learnt anything from being murdered in their millions! What is wrong with them?”. David Ward might not have meant all of that, I think he probably just thought he was being clever when his office sent out that press release. But that is the dirty subtext which he bought into – and he should be held accountable for it. 
David Curtis wrote a letter to Ward explaining how vile he thought Ward's comments were, adding himself to the list of "detractors" who have written to Ward.

CIF Watch wrote "turn David Ward's vile charge on its head."

Sarah AB of Harry's Places writes on Engage - David Ward, Israel, the Holocaust, and the Jews.

Flesh is Grass on David Ward.

Also a good oped piece in the Telegraph: David Ward's Grotesque Caricature of Israel.

2 comments:

  1. Excellent. The "You of All People" argument is and pervasive, patronizing, trivializing and, ultimately, determinist. Nazis killed Jews not because they wanted them to move to Palestine, oust the natives, and set up a state; they killed them because they wanted to kill all Jews, everywhere. They even counted how many Jews they would get to kill once they occupied England. It's not a stretch to argue that Hitler invaded Russia because (a) he could kill the Jews he already had rounded up without close scrutiny, and (b) there were more Jews in Russia that they could kill. One could even argue that the primary reason the Nazis wanted power was to kill Jews.

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