I was privileged to be invited to speak at a Holocaust Memorial Day event last week. Taking my duties as a speaker seriously, I researched the subject and decided to base my talk to young healthcare students on the late Sir Nicholas Winton.
I chose Sir Nicholas because he was brave and fearless, and he saved the lives of 669 Jewish children who would almost certainly have gone to the Nazi gas chambers where their parents and grandparents perished during World War Two. His heroics caught my eye not least because more than 30 Western governments had met in Paris ahead of the war to decide what to do about the Jewish migrants fleeing persecution in Nazi Germany. All of those which took part in that meeting, including Britain, decided to their eternal shame to do nothing; they even made Sir Nicholas's efforts all the more difficult by hindering him with red tape.
Despite this, he soldiered on and rescued so many children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of the war in an operation later dubbed the Czech Kindertransport. Winton found homes for them and arranged for their safe passage to Britain. I thought that his story would inspire the young people in my native City of Newcastle upon Tyne and make them realise that despite what governments say and do, ordinary people, individually or collectively, can often do much more.
Some of the students told me afterwards that they were empowered by the talk, which was good to hear. The reaction I had from other quarters, though, was nothing short of astonishing. Rabid members of the pro-Israel lobby who give their unconditional and unstinting support to the Zionist State took to social media and questioned why I, as an advocate for Palestinian justice and a critic of Israel, dared to speak about the Holocaust.
As often happens with this type of vigilantism, the hate-fest took on a life of its own; before long I was being called an anti-Semite and even a Holocaust denier. Incredible. No amount of explanation could pacify the hard core of online mobsters so I resorted to Twitter's blocking facility. The hateful narrative is still out there, though, waiting to be recycled and hurled back at me every time I stand up to speak out about injustice in occupied Palestine.
Moreover, there were reports in the Jewish media that I was "exploiting the Holocaust" and one local Labour MP insisted that she would never have shared a platform with me had she known that I held views which she implied were "anti-Semitism". She has still not explained what views she meant, nor, I suspect, will she.
The only thing to which I can compare this sort of behaviour is McCarthyism, named after the late US Senator Joseph McCarthy who unleashed a vicious campaign against the working classes in the search for "known communists" during America's so-called "Red Scare". This, in itself, is an interesting and significant parallel and those who've already been unfairly trampled underfoot by vicious elements of the pro-Israel lobby should read on and take heart.
McCarthy hit the rails after his campaign moved from the working classes through to the middle classes before he turned his attention to the Establishment when Republican President Dwight Eisenhower came to power in 1953. The Red Scare juggernaut, fuelled by the Republican Party until then, finally crashed out of control when McCarthy ran out of victims to persecute and said that he believed that communism had infiltrated the ranks of the US military and the State Department. It was a step too far for those on high who, until then, had applauded his efforts against ordinary American citizens.
McCarthy's vile witch-hunt whipped up anti-communist hysteria but was brought to a dramatic end by the powers that be. In the interim, he had bullied, lied and smeared his way to power, wrecking countless careers and trampling on the lives of innocents. The senator was finally exposed as a reckless bully and in the final years of his life in the Senate he sunk into alcoholism; he died in 1957, largely reviled and despised.
Why the history lesson? I believe that the attacks on anyone who dares to criticise the State of Israel or the political ideology of Zionism smacks of McCarthyism. Critics are accused of anti-Semitism in the same way that people were hounded down for real or imagined communist affiliations. For the record, and I should not have to say this but I will, anyone who targets another human being simply because of their faith, skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, race or nationality should be shown zero tolerance and even less respect. Political ideologies should, however, be open to rigorous criticism, and their followers should be able to participate fully in political life wherever they live.
Zionism is the founding ideology of the State of Israel and its tenets underpin the government's policies and practices; it is neither a faith nor an ethnic identity. It follows, therefore, that the Zionist state should be open to criticism for its ideological leanings just as others are, especially when that ideology has such deadly implications for the people of Palestine.
However, the net effect of the pro-Israel witch-hunt against critics has made some people so fearful of being accused of anti-Semitism — a particular odious form of racism — that they keep silent in the face of dreadful human rights abuses by Israel, and even when friends and colleagues are accused of being anti-Semitic. Israel's obvious contempt for UN resolutions and international laws and conventions is not enough to prompt them to overcome their fear and stand up for what is right. The State of Israel, let us remind ourselves, is in breach of more UN resolutions than any other member of the international organisation.
It would be very foolish indeed to pretend that anti-Semitism doesn't exist; it does, and Jews have every reason to fear such hatred. What happened in 1930s Europe could so easily happen again if the far right is allowed to flourish unhindered, as it is across the continent.
In such a politically-charged atmosphere, it is baffling that some Zionist organisations have links with far-right groups who fuel hatred against Jews. Mick Napier of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) has said that the organisation has been harassed by pro-Israel activist Sammy Stein. "[Stein] works on behalf of the Israeli Embassy to defend Israeli mass murder, torture, sexual abuse of Palestinian women and children and every manner of Israeli crime," Napier points out. "Stein was caught in flagrante recently with neo-Nazi Max Dunbar."
Dunbar was a leading promoter of the British National Party's neo-Nazi ideology of White supremacy, which included Holocaust denial. He and Stein have been filmed and photographed working together to harass those tending a Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign street stall. To be fair, when the SPSC exposed Dunbar's far right pedigree the link was severed.
Napier, the co-founder of the SPSC, is perhaps a little less forgiving. "Like Trump caught boasting of his serial sexual assaults," he responded, "or the Israeli Chief Military Rabbi endorsing rape of Palestinian women by Israeli soldiers in time of war, the glare of publicity on such practices usually prompts a public apology or retreat, but few take seriously such retreats [made] under pressure."
Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had no such qualms at all about meeting Italy's Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, who is on record as expressing admiration for his country's former Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini. Salvini's visit to Israel in December last year was exploited by what remains of the Israeli left, who accused Netanyahu of embracing fascists like Salvini, Hungary's Viktor Orban and Poland's Mateusz Morawiecki. The director of the Richard Koebner Minerva Centre for German History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, historian Moshe Zimmermann, explained recently that the new European fascists, who hate Muslims, love Netanyahu because of what he has done to the Palestinians.
The reality is that Israel's alliances with extreme right regimes from Brazil to Hungary, Poland and beyond are open for all to see. "Israel's promotion of non-state actors of a neo-Nazi provenance is also well documented," added Napier in a recent article on the SPSC website, "even if the pro-Israel crowd's involvement with neo-Nazis like Dunbar is often treated as unremarkable by mainstream media outlets in the UK."
Another example of these unlikely political bedfellows can be seen at the Middle East Forum funded by tech mogul billionaire Robert Shillman. While right-wing American writer Daniel Pipes is the organisation's president, the MEF's day-to-day operations are run by one Gregg Roman, who recently helped set up a US speaking tour for Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka the founder of the far-right English Defence League, Tommy Robinson. The tour, which was predicted to raise more than £1 million to fund Robinson's race-hate activities in Britain, was ultimately unsuccessful because he was refused a US entry visa. Roman once served as the political advisor to Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, and worked for the Ministry of Defence. He attended courses in national security studies and political communications at the Interdisciplinary Centre (IDC) in Herzliya, Israel, the hub of the Israeli political-military-intelligence elite. "When Gregg Roman organised Yaxley-Lennon/Robinson's tour he was doing so with the blessing of the Israeli Government," Napier insisted.
Israel certainly has hooked up with some of the world's most odious anti-Semites since the State was founded on Palestinian land in 1948. Such links would, no doubt, have had the blessing of Theodor Herzl, the godfather of political Zionism. Promoting Jewish migration to Palestine around the turn of the twentieth century he wrote, "The anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies." According to the SPSC's Mick Napier, Zionism's links with the far-right create a win-win situation for both ends of the axis. "The anti-Semites get rid of Jews from their countries and the Zionists get fresh forces for their settler-colonial project. That's why the Israeli regime partners with Bolsonaro, Orban and neo-Nazis such as Stephen Yaxley-Lennon/Tommy Robinson."
The tragedy in all of this is that the abuses of the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights have been largely ignored by the international community, just as Europe's Jews were ignored in the run up to and during the Second World War. Six million Jews perished in the Holocaust despite the heroic efforts of a few individuals like Sir Nicholas Winton. For that reason alone, I will not remain silent about the persecution of Jews, Palestinians and any others targeted for their faith, their beliefs, their gender, their race, their skin colour or their nationality.
The Zionists out there who call me an anti-Semite because I criticise Israel and its brutality against the Palestinian people should hang their heads in shame. Those who stand by and allow such hysterical demonisation to take place without challenge are to be pitied for their cowardice, as are those who accept the pro-Israel narrative without question. McCarthyism died a shameful death and the pernicious Zionism which targets political parties, trade unionists and other working class activists will, I am certain, meet the same pitiful end.
Israel and its supporters have as much chance of stopping me from speaking about the Holocaust as they have of silencing me over the Zionist state's brutal military occupation and accompanying repression of the Palestinians. The great thing in all of this, as they well know, is that I am not alone; there are tens of thousands out there just like me who will continue to stand up and be loud and proud in defence of all human rights, no matter who the abusers are. That includes you, Zionists.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.