Holocaust Memorial Day was introduced in Britain in 2001 and has since become a focus for events commemorating the Holocaust, and relating it to other, more recent genocides. Despite its establishment origins, the creation of Holocaust Memorial Day would appear to be a victory, and a useful tool, for anti-fascist campaigning. But the growing hostility of parts of the left to official Holocaust commemorations reveals much about changing attitudes to Jews.
This year, during Holocaust Memorial Week, Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign organised a series of readings of Jim Allen’s play Perdition, which uses the complex case of Rudolf Kastner and the tragic destruction of Hungarian Jewry to lay the charge that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis in the implementation of the Holocaust. The play has been comprehensively debunked, most notably by Sir Martin Gilbert and David Cesarani, but remains a powerful piece of anti-Zionist propaganda; the allegation of collaboration between Zionists and Nazis is an invention of Soviet anti-Zionism that has outlived its creator. In addition to readings of Perdition, SPSC also organised meetings featuring Lenni Brenner, the author of Zionism in the Age of Dictators, which was the basis for much of Perdition. Brighton & Hove PSC did the same, inviting Brenner to speak on ‘Zionist Collaboration with Nazi Germany’.
This recasting of Holocaust commemoration from an ant-Zionist perspective should not be dismissed as just another piece of anti-Israel propaganda. Holocaust remembrance has long been viewed with suspicion by anti-Zionists as part of Israel’s armour, and Israel and its supporters are often charged with using the Holocaust to deflect criticism. Tony Greenstein, the organiser of the Brighton & Hove PSC event, has made this a central part of his anti-Zionist campaigning for many years. He is far from alone; the Morning Star, for example, published a letter by Karl Dallas, a correspondent from Bradford, which claimed that “Zionists worked closely with the Gestapo to locate, identify and transport European Jews to the concentration camps, helped to confiscate their property and transfer the assets to bank accounts which included Bank Leumi in Israel which is, even now, blocking the return of those assets to the survivors of the camps”(1).
For others on the left, though, to organise events that directly challenge mainstream Holocaust remembrance is still a step too far. The Socialist Workers Party even forced one of its activists, Esther Sassaman, to leave the SPSC so as not to be associated with their alternative Holocaust Memorial Week events (2). Socialist Worker also published a letter from two Scottish SWP members, Henry Maitles and Barrie Levine, criticising the SPSC’s plans (3). Not that the SWP’s opposition was based on moral grounds; as Sassaman put it, “My qualms about the staging of Perdition during HMW are tactical. The Zionists have certainly controlled the discourse about Holocaust remembrance for many years, and have aggressively quashed the truth about Zionist collaboration with Nazis” (4).
The truth about Zionist, non-Zionist and anti-Zionist behaviour during the Holocaust has been researched and written about extensively elsewhere, and the purpose of this article is not to set straight the distortions of Brenner, Greenstein and others, but to shed some light on where their obsessions might lead. For while the SWP worried about tactics, the strategic aims of the SPSC were revealed by its Chair, Mick Napier, in his reply to Maitles and Levine. Napier argued that Holocaust commemoration was used “to ‘justify’ the mass murder and expropriation of the Palestinians”, and that “An accurate understanding of the Nazi Holocaust is essential to grasp modern Israeli savagery towards the Palestinian people. The political link between Palestine and the Nazi mass murder of Jews in 1942-5 is not the prerogative of the SPSC” (5). This idea, that Holocaust commemoration needs to be undermined as part of the struggle against Israel, has dangerous roots, being the basis of a sustained marketing campaign by neo-Nazis and antisemitic Holocaust Deniers to potential sources of funding and support in the Arab and Muslim world. Here is Robert Faurisson, in a 2005 interview with Tehran Times:
“What makes for the strength of the Jewish State is the political support, rooted in supposedly ethical grounds, that it enjoys in the entire Western world, where people feel sorry for the Jews because they believe that, during the Second World War, the Germans sought to exterminate them physically, in particular in the alleged gas chambers…the citizens of all those Western countries, swamped with Jewish propaganda as they are, believe the ‘Holocaust’ lie and, as long as they believe it, will feel bound to support the Jews and to supply the Jewish State and the Jewish Army with ever more money and arms. The more those in the West believe in the ‘Holocaust’, the more Muslims they will kill and cause to be killed in Palestine, in Afghanistan, in Iraq or elsewhere…The Jews’ power stems directly from the Western world’s near-total belief in the phenomenal lie of the ‘Holocaust’. You needn’t look any further” (6).
Faurisson’s emphasis of Jewish, rather than Zionist or Israeli, power is telling. A similar line was taken by Ernst Zundel in his open letter to the Muslim world, The West, War, and Islam, which set out the full scope of the international Jewish conspiracy under such headings as “The International Zionists”, “The International Secret Societies”, “The International Bankers” and “International Communism”, and then concluded with an appeal for funds:
“The Islamic world has the financial means to publish, broadcast or otherwise disseminate the historical, factual data leading to the truth…There are at this moment already in existence organizations which, if properly funded, could become the nucleus of an independent, worldwide information network capable of countering the now virtually unopposed Zionist disinformation and hate propaganda networks. One such example is the Zundelsite, a United States based website that has exposed the so-called ‘Holocaust’ as an extortion tool…that yields Israel the money, power and excuse to occupy the Palestinians and to intimidate its neighbours such as Syria, Lebanon, Iran and other Arab nations…Take the Holocaust away, and you will have severed the financial water well that feeds an evil oligarchy and repressive system!” (7)
Of course no leftist can “Take the Holocaust away” entirely, as Zundel suggests. For post-war generations, anti-fascism and the history of the struggle against Nazism is a core part of their political identity, but the desire to negate the Holocaust as a reason for Israel’s existence is certainly shared by many on the left. Reinterpreting the Holocaust as a Zionist crime is in itself a form of Holocaust Denial; the left cannot deny the full facts of the Holocaust as the far right does, but many on the left are just as willing to distort history, with the allegation of Zionist-Nazi collaboration, in order to erase the link between the destruction of European Jewry and its rebirth in Israel. Of course the left has its own history of cooperation with Nazi Germany in the form of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which is conveniently obscured by the allegation of Zionist collaboration.
While the connection between the emotional power of the Holocaust and support for Israel generated sympathy for Israel amongst older generations on the left, for whom the Holocaust, and subsequent birth of Israel, were tangible events, for the younger generation it is increasingly a source of resentment. This is a generation for whom the universal messages of the Holocaust are well understood and accepted, but the particularist Jewish messages seem anachronistic and unnecessary. The image of Israel as a perpetrator of ‘Nazi-lite’ ethnic cleansing facilitates the role-reversal in Napier’s claim that, “An accurate understanding of the Nazi Holocaust is essential to grasp modern Israeli savagery towards the Palestinian people”. In this version of Holocaust remembrance, history is not studied in order to understand Jewish suffering at the hands of European antisemitism; instead, it is the Palestinians who are the true victims of the Holocaust, are still suffering the consequences today and to whom Europe owes its historic moral debt.
The claim that Zionists, having collaborated with Nazis in perpetrating the Holocaust, are now inflicting similar misery on the Palestinians, neatly solves the contradiction between the left’s anti-fascism and its anti-Zionism; but it also has a more profound impact on the left’s attitudes to Jews. Firstly, the notion that the Zionist movement could act as equal partners with Nazi Germany, at a time when ordinary Jews were at their most powerless and desperate, raises Zionism to a level of power and malevolence that traces a direct line to Protocols-style conspiracy theories. This has stronger resonance now, in a political milieu that accepts conspiracy theories about Zionist or Jewish control of American foreign policy and the Iraq war. And secondly, this determination to place Zionism and Nazism in the same political box brings with it the claims that their contemporary adherents, in the form of Israel and its supporters on the one hand, and neo-Nazis on the other, are still in alliance. Thus the SPSC website gave these three reasons for the importance of their Holocaust Memorial Week events: “Open, ethnic cleansers now occupy senior positions in the nuclear-armed Israel government; Racist, extreme-right parties inspired by the Nazis are now growing across Europe; Political Zionism and extreme right-wing parties have usually cooperated against the left”. Articles in the Morning Star (8) and the far left journal What Next? (9) have even suggested the prospect of British Jews voting for the British National Party. It is true that the BNP has tried to pretend that its obsessive antisemitism is now consigned to its past; but it is a bizarre twist that the only people taking this seriously are anti-Zionists excited by the illusory prospect of such an alliance, which would allow them to marry together the two sides of their political identity.
For neo-Nazis, though, Holocaust Denial is about much more than just undermining Israel. They understand that the response to the Holocaust forms the basis of the entire post-war European liberal consensus, and the multi-ethnic societies that they so despise. As Nick Griffin wrote, in the days before he felt it politically expedient to mask the BNP’s antisemitism:
“For the last fifty years the vision underlying all the vile sickness of this Age of Ruins has been the so-called ‘Holocaust.’ There is no need to elaborate on the way in which the work of revisionist historians and forensic examinations have nailed the absurd lie that Nazi Germany, in the midst of a wartime shortage of labour and materials, gassed or otherwise systematically exterminated six million Jews. What does need to be stressed is the extent to which this nonsense underpins not just the Zionist state of Israel and Jewish power worldwide but the entire edifice of global liberalism…The New World struggling to be born cannot do so until this lie is publicly exposed, ridiculed and destroyed…members of the British National Party have a duty to be involved as active participants in the revisionist struggle”. (10)
This hatred of liberal democracies is one of the things that the far right shares with Islamists and the far left. It almost certainly plays a role in the promotion of Holocaust Denial by Iran; this particular propaganda weapon is multi-purpose, which is why it appeals to all types of totalitarian movements. It may also be the case that the current Iranian campaign on this issue, and the growing support on the British left for Hezbollah and Iran, is what has given SPSC and others the confidence to challenge mainstream Holocaust commemoration head-on. But it is a sign of the moral collapse of parts of the left, and the distance travelled from their political moorings, that denial, distortion and manipulation of the Holocaust has become another point of commonality between these political extremes.
(1) Karl Dallas, “Collaboration of Zionists and Nazis”, Morning Star 12/8/06
(2) “SWP Force Resignation of Member from the Scottish PSC over Perdition“, Harry’s Place 19/1/07
(3) Barrie Levine and Henry Maitles, “A day to remember”, Socialist Worker 6/1/07
(4) “SWP Force Resignation of Member from the Scottish PSC over ‘Perdition’”, Harry’s Place 19/1/07
(5) Mick Napier, “Raising the issues over Holocaust Memorial Day”, Socialist Worker 27/1/07
(6) “Zionist power stems from West’s belief in ‘Holocaust’ myth: Faurisson”, Tehran Times 10/11/05
(7) Ernst Zundel, The West, War, and Islam, undated
(8) Geoff Brown, “Why Muslims are these men’s current target”, Morning Star 20/9/06
(9) Andrew McKibben, “Is the BNP Nazi? No, it’s Worse: It isn’t”, What Next? no. 31
(10)Nick Griffin, “‘Populism’ or power?”, Spearhead no. 324 February 1996