The socialist leader of a British political party embroiled in an anti-Semitism row has apologised for appearing on platforms with people who drew Nazi-style comparisons with Israel’s actions. His remarks, though, have backfired among some Jewish and other pro-Palestinian groups.
They have accused the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn of “crumbling” after pointing out that the original “Nazi” comments were made by a Jewish survivor of Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Corbyn’s statement and apology were delivered last week in response to a British media furore over reports that he hosted an event in 2010 during which Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians was compared to Nazism.
Corbyn’s critics in the pro-Israel Lobby failed to consider that the Nazi comparison was made by Hajo Meyer, a Holocaust survivor who died in 2014. Meyer made the comparison during a talk in a House of Commons committee room on “The Misuse of the Holocaust for Political Purposes”. Furthermore, a man who was removed by security officials from the meeting for making a Nazi salute and shouting “Sieg Heil” was actually from the pro-Israel lobbyists who were in the audience.
Among those rushing to condemn the Labour for further “proof” of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party under Corbyn’s leadership was one of his own MPs. Liverpool’s Louise Ellman told the BBC that she was “absolutely appalled” to hear about his involvement in the Holocaust meeting. She forgot to mention that she had attended the same meeting in parliament and was among those who jeered a Holocaust survivor. No one from the BBC questioned her about that, or the fact that the comments at the heart of the anti-Semitism row were made by a Jew who survived Auschwitz.
The latest, and harshest, criticism by the co-organisers of that meeting have been saved for Corbyn himself. “We will not crumble, as Jeremy Corbyn seems to have done,” insisted the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign. “By his apology and attack on two advocates of Palestinian freedom Corbyn has only emboldened those who defend every Israeli crime and work to silence opponents of the crimes against humanity carried out by the State of Israel on the Palestinian people.” Such opponents, the SPSC claimed, will never be placated because they hate the idea of Corbyn being within reach of 10 Downing Street where he might challenge Britain’s alliance with Israel.
“False accusations of anti-Semitism by defenders of Israeli snipers,” the Campaign added, “is ‘the gift that keeps on giving’. Once a false accusation has been made the act of denial is portrayed as proof of guilt. This new version of Catch 22 submerges areas of British politics in a McCarthyite madness where the accusation, however absurd, means inescapable guilt, at least in much of the mainstream media.” That media, it must be said, has been shamefully biased towards Israel’s increasingly far-right position.
Corbyn’s apology read thus: “In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject. I apologise for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused.”
The man who drew parallels with the Nazi regime, 85-year-old Dr Hajo Meyer, was joined at the meeting in the House of Commons on Holocaust Memorial Day, 27 January 2010, by Dr Haidar Eid, who participated in the meeting from Gaza via speakerphone. Both men compared the dehumanisation of Jewish people in Hitler’s Germany pre-1941 with the dehumanisation of Palestinian people in current day Israel and occupied Palestine. Throughout his UK speaking tour, Dr Meyer received standing ovations.
Co-organisers from the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) said that the tour had provided an opportunity for “many hearing for the first time important truths about Israel’s occupation of Palestine.” In a press statement issued last week, IJAN quoted Meyer: “My great lesson from Auschwitz is: whoever wants to dehumanise any other, must first be dehumanised himself. The oppressors are no longer really human whatever uniform they wear.“
The event in 2010 attracted leading Zionist figures including Ellman [then and now, Vice Chair of Labour Friends of Israel], Jerry Lewis [then Vice President, Board of Deputies] and Jonathan Hoffman [then Co-Vice Chair of the Zionist Federation], as well as Christian Friends of Israel. “Most of them had clearly not come to listen,” explained IJAN. “They barracked both Dr Meyer and Dr Eid, and one of them, Martin Sugarman, had to be escorted out by the Commons security; on his way out he stunned everyone by giving the Nazi salute and shouting ‘Sieg Heil’.”
IJAN added that following the deaths of more than 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza in July 2014, a letter from survivors of the Nazi genocide and hundreds of their descendants called for a full economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. “Genocide begins with the silence of the world… We must raise our collective voices and use our collective power to bring about an end to all forms of racism, including the ongoing genocide of Palestinian people. ‘Never again’ must mean NEVER AGAIN FOR ANYONE!” Dr Hajo Meyer was the first to sign the letter, which was published in the New York Times on 24 August 2014, the morning after he died.
IJAN describes itself as an international network of Jewish people opposed to imperialism, militarism, apartheid and genocide. It said that the event in question was “a coming together of many communities which have faced dehumanisation, racism and genocide.” Speakers were Armenian, Bangladeshi, Irish, Native American, Roma, Rwandan and Tamil. There were also people with disabilities, and a speaker on the slave trade from Africa to the Americas and the revolution which ended slavery in Haiti.
In its literature, IJAN says that it supports “the liberation of the Palestinian people, and the right of return for those driven from their homes and their land by Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing.” The group has active chapters in Argentina, Canada, France, Spain, Britain and America.
Its tour partner on that occasion, the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, recalled the events clearly: “During his talks, Hajo Meyer movingly described his experiences in Nazi-occupied Europe; how the regime dehumanised him and other Jews, and drew compelling parallels between his life before 1941 and Israel’s progressive dehumanisation of Palestinians up until the present day. Dr Meyer argued at each meeting that ‘Zionism was the polar opposite of Judaism’, ie a brutal programme of settler colonialism contrasted with the ethical power of one of the great world religions.”
Dr Haider Eid spoke at that meeting in 2010 from the Gaza “prison camp”, as former British Prime Minister David Cameron once called the besieged territory. Most of the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip are refugees from other parts of historic Palestine, having been driven from their homes by waves of Israeli ethnic cleansing. Successive military offensives have been carried out by Israel over the years.
Dr Eid spoke a year after Israel’s massacre of 1,400 Palestinians, which the UN Goldstone Commission concluded was “a war crime and possible crime against humanity.” Crimes against humanity were first prosecuted against the Nazi leadership in Nuremberg after the end of World War Two. The Palestinian academic suggested that Nazi-type bestiality was not consigned to history by the Nuremburg trials. “The world was absolutely wrong to think that Nazism was defeated in 1945,” he insisted. “Nazism has won because it has finally managed to Nazify the consciousness of its own victims.”
SPSC added that while the pro-Israel lobby seeks to criminalise such statements, Dr Eid’s comparison of modern day Israel to Nazi Germany has also been articulated by several prominent political figures in Israel, including the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Israeli army, Yair Golan. Major General Golan said in a speech delivered at a 2016 Holocaust Memorial event in Israel that, “It’s scary to see horrifying developments that took place in Europe begin to unfold here.”
The senior officer came under intense attack inside Israel but was defended by prominent figures. His comment was widely believed to be a reference to the case of Elor Azaria, an Israeli soldier who was caught on film taking deliberate aim and shooting dead an injured and already prone Palestinian, Abdel Fattah Al-Sharif. Golan may, though, have been thinking of the recently appointed Military Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim who, as well as calling for genocide in Gaza, had endorsed rape of “comely Gentile women” if it maintained the morale of Israeli soldiers in wartime.
Another example of a senior Israeli drawing on the horrors of World War Two under the Nazi regime was provided when another Major General, and former minister, Matan Vilnai threatened the Palestinians with a Holocaust. In order to leave everyone in no doubt about what he meant, he used the Hebrew word “Shoah”.
Intensive efforts by pro-Israel groups in Britain have so far failed to provide a single anti-Semitic word written or uttered by Corbyn to back up their accusation, but this has not stopped the campaign against him, which is apparently being directed by Israel’s Embassy on the British capital. Unable to win the debate by rational means, it seems that the tactic now is to try to shut down open and honest debate altogether. Anyone who does not toe the pro-Israel line must be discredited and disregarded at all costs, even when that person is both a Jew and a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. That’s how desperate Israel and its apologists are.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.