January 27, 2013 by happyhenry
David Ward, Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford West, does not apparently understand why he has caused widespread offence with his statement that (in his amended version):
“The Holocaust was one of the worst examples in history of man’s inhumanity to man. When faced with examples of atrocious behaviour, we must learn from them. It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated.”
Ward has been widely condemned for this statement and has been accused of racism by other MPs. He has been criticised for comparing the industrial slaughter of millions in the holocaust to the very different scale of oppression of Palestinians. But the second part reflects the often expressed view that “of all people, you would expect the Jews to have learnt from the holocaust and treat the Palestinians differently.”
It always makes me angry to hear that. First, it shows a remarkable misunderstanding of psychology, suggesting that terrible hurts should somehow make people behave better. If we hear of a child who has suffered terrible abuse, we are not surprised when they go on to inflict abuse upon others. People do not say “after all they suffered, you would expect them to treat others better.”
It also seems to be an expectation that is only applied to Jews. There are many critiques of the Rwandan government, including the allegation that they are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in the Congo, but I have never seen questions as to why, after all their suffering, they could do such things.
There are some remarkable individuals whose people have endured terrible suffering and yet they have dedicated their lives to peace and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela is the most famous example. But they are seen as remarkable because of this ability to put aside their past distress. Nobody says “Oh yes, of course Nelson Mandela seeks peace with his neighbours. You would understand it after how badly apartheid treated black South Africa.”
There are, of course, many Jews who do take on reconciliation. I was deeply inspired last year to meet Israeli and Palestinian mothers, who have lost children in the conflict and have responded by seeking to build bridges and understand the other side – in the Parents Circle Family Forum. As Robi Damelin said on hearing of the death of her son: “You may not kill anybody in the name of my child.”
When the CIA briefed Ronald Reagan to meet foreign leaders, they would prepare a short film to help him understand the issues. The film about Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Began started with graphic footage of the holocaust. They saw that it was only in the context of that terrible past, and the fact that his parents were murdered by the Nazis, that you could understand modern Israel and its actions.
If you are in Tel Aviv and visit the Diaspora Museum you will see history as Israelis see it. Alongside a story of great learning and culture, you will also learn of a repeated pattern of attacks – from the Romans and before, through the expulsions of the middle ages, the genocide of the Spanish reconquest, the pogroms of Eastern Europe to, of course, the holocaust. Indeed the Jewish festivals that we are brought up with have, as one wit put it, been summarised as “They tried to kill us all. We survived. Let’s eat”.
It is not surprising that, with this history, Israelis find it hard to trust others. It is not surprising that a hurt and traumatised people inflicts hurt on others. And it is not surprising that, having occupied another people’s land, that it leads – as it has in all occupations – to terrible human rights violations. It is not because they are Jews but because they are occupiers.
Along with the other founders of Independent Jewish Voices I oppose the Israeli occupation, the blockade of Gaza and the invasions of Lebanon and Gaza, but I have no trouble in understanding the Israeli mindset and what has led to these actions.
I am deeply saddened by what the Israeli government continues to do, but I am also saddened by people who expect the Jews, and normally its only the Jews, to have become better people as a result of our terrible past. It feels like we are being told “Even after all that was done to you, still you haven’t learnt to be good”. And that view, I fear, may have very deep roots in Western anti-semitism.