Sep 2010 Journal
Letters to the Editor
‘THE ORDER OF TREMBLING ISRAELITES’
Sir - Peter Phillips (July) has written such a farrago of errors, half-truths and prejudices that it is difficult to know where to begin.
He does not like the Haredim or Yisrael Beitenu. That is his privilege. But to suggest that they are responsible for Israel’s low status in the eyes of the world is as absurd as to suggest that anti-Semitism is the fault of the Jews. He is disappointed with the way Israel has turned out. So are we all, but the miracle is that Israel has survived at all, faced as it is with the implacable hatred of wide sections of the Muslim world, the hostility of much of the former Christian West, bedazzled by raison d’état and sheer funk, and - last but not least - the betrayal by so many Jews, blinded from reality by the leftish ideology that pervades our political and cultural environment.
While espousing moral relativity except when it comes to Israel, so that the Arab refusal to talk peace is met only by ever further demands for Israeli concessions, this ideology has no difficulty in allying itself with the demands of some of the most primitive regimes in the world, united only by their demonisation of Israel. It is not easy to be odd man out when most of the world is prepared to let Israel and the Jewish people go under, something which Mr Phillips’s father would have understood from his experiences of the 1930s.
Mr Phillips and other members of what Namier called the ‘Order of Trembling Israelites’ should lift their eyes from their navels and see how Israel is treated as a pariah, ripe for destruction, just as the Jews were treated in the 1930s. Daniel Johnson, writing in the current issue of Standpoint, can see this: ‘[T]his summer may also prove to be the last interlude of calm before a war of annihilation is being unleashed against the Jewish people and against the state of Israel in the first instance.’
Chilling words. Alas, they may be closer to the truth than the vapid outpourings of Mr Phillips.
Incidentally, on a personal note, as a past chairman of the Oxford University Jewish Society, I take exception to Mr Phillips’s characterisation of that body as religious. By no means. Instead, it sought and obtained members of all types of religious affiliation, and of none, who wished to seek the company of their fellow Jews.
Sir - So today’s Israel is not the place Peter Phillips knew. If he was honest to himself, nor is the UK what it was when he grew up. Significant reasons for this are the decline of the Church and religion and the rise of European secularism and the G-d of human rights. As a lawyer, how can he be proud of a country where, even after ten years, one is not able to deport the likes of a terrorist rabble-rouser like Abu Hamza to the US but a UK court offers no redress against a group of persons who trash a factory and cause major damage, all in the false belief that they are the arbiters of the rule of law? I would say this is the new fascism. If that is what Peter Phillips admires, good luck to him. He is making the same mistake as his ancestors in the 30s.
Sir - I was thoroughly confused by Peter Phillips’s article. The meaning he gave to the figure of speech which he used to describe the Israeli action in Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 - ‘[S]hoot first, ask questions later’ - cannot possibly be used to describe the sequence of events unless one has to scrape the bottom of the barrel trying to find fault.
Rockets had been fired from Gaza since 2001. By January 2009 no fewer than 8,600 rockets had been launched against Israel in general and Sderot in particular, leading to 28 deaths and several hundred injured as well as widespread psychological trauma and disruption of daily life. The counter-attack, ‘Cast Lead’, took place at least seven years after the start of the indiscriminate and continuous bombardment of Israel by Palestinians. Waiting for seven years is hardly ‘shooting first’.
As far as the pre-state struggle against the British goes, to which he alludes by mentioning the two British sergeants, it is as well to remember that British troops shot dead, shot and severely injured and clubbed unarmed Jews, men and women, on the Exodus in 1947 all of whom had been through the horrors of the camps. The rest were forcibly returned to prison camps in Germany, Popendorf and Am Stau near Lübeck, and fed lower than DP rations as punishment. There they stood in cages while the Germans walked up and down smiling.
What best describes the attitude displayed on the letter pages of our journal towards a beleaguered Israel from the vantage point of the UK is yet another figure of speech:
‘I’m all right, Yenkele!’
Sir - If you google Col. Richard Kemp’s address to the UN emergency session on human rights on 16 October 2009 you will find the antidote to the accusations made against Israel by both some Jews and the general media concerning its military action in Gaza. Col. Kemp was the commander of British forces in Afghanistan.
There is again so much international fuss directed against Israel’s decision to build houses in the ‘occupied’ West Bank and East Jerusalem, lawfully occupied after a war. Russia’s and Poland’s occupation of conquered German territories after the Second World War was greeted with approbation. There is no overt protest against China’s occupation of Tibet and the establishment of Chinese settlements there. Is it because Israel is a small (Jewish?) nation, while China is large and powerful and – let’s face it - provides us with cheap goods?
Col. Kemp’s address to the UN received no publicity, no headlines …
Sir - Once again Peter Phillips is giving us his biased and uninformed views on Israel. Why does he not check his facts before claiming that Israel shoots first and asks questions later?
Fact. Israel waited seven years before retaliating to the Hamas rocket attacks. If Winston Churchill had waited that long before retaliating to Germany bombing, neither he nor I would be here now.
Fact. Israel asked the Turkish flotilla repeatedly to enter peacefully into the port, where after a search it would be escorted into Gaza. Their response was ‘Go back to Auschwitz!’ The Israeli commandos then boarded the first ship, which was filled with armed insurgents, not peaceful volunteers bringing vital supplies. The aim of the insurgents was to provoke the Israelis - which they did - by shooting and fighting them, injuring and capturing several commandos in the process. It was only then that the Israelis began shooting, as clearly the aim of the insurgents was to capture several Israeli soldiers and add them to Gilad Shalit in captivity. The other boats all entered peacefully, which fact seems to have been forgotten.
There are many websites where these facts can be checked and I would advise Mr Phillips to do so before repeating what he hears and reads in the media.
As for his criticisms of the Israeli government, there is a good way to implement them: go on aliyah and protest through the ballot box.
Sir – When the first pioneers came to Palestine they decided to shed the ‘ghetto mentality’ and fight for their country come what may. This is why they won’t stand for any nonsense from the Arabs or anybody else. Their attitude was aggravated by the British Mandate - ‘pussy-footing’ to the Arabs and pacifying them by keeping out refugees from Nazi oppression. They fought for the Jewish state as envisaged by Herzl. I wholeheartedly endorse their decision not to not stand for any hostile attitude. They are in the right and they know it!
Incidentally, when I was about to go to Palestine on Youth Aliya in 1938, we were encouraged to get married so that two of us could get out on one permit. And I wasn’t yet 15!
Sir – How sad that Peter Prager’s (August) tears for the Palestinians keep flowing! The British created Jordan from our land and then invited the surrounding Arabs to it, keeping Jews out! All until 1948. These are the so-called Palestinians – why are they not going back if they are so poor with all the millions from England and Europe’s donations they are getting? And it’s not the West Bank – it’s Judea!
Sir - Marcel Ladenheim equates the US with ‘its Guantanamo Bay prison camp’, and Britain with Russia and China, in naming countries which one could not - or should not - love. I wonder why he chose to live here?
A BIG THANK YOU
Sir – I would like to say a big thank you to all the staff at AJR, who are working so hard and efficiently in making life so much easier for us ‘old uns’. Since joining the AJR, my life has been much easier and I have met so many wonderful people. Also, a big thank you to Susanne Green and Ruth Finestone for another wonderful holiday at Lytham St Annes. They worked so hard to make sure we had a good time and we all did! As it’s nearly the new year, I wish all staff and readers a Happy and Healthy New Year!
Sir - A great many thanks for the Imperial War Museum brochure you included with the August issue of the Journal. I have not been able to visit their very laudable Holocaust Exhibition because of our physical inability - much less the sites at Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, where my family died. Your thoughtful inclusion with the Journal is much appreciated, as is all the work you do.
A HIERARCHY OF SUFFERING?
Sir - It is both interesting and amusing that the two issues ‘Who is a Jew?’ and ‘Who is a Holocaust survivor?’ come round again and again in the Jewish press. Of course, there can be no one answer, only a wide range of opinions. It only becomes problematic when a person or group insists that they have the ‘only answer’ and every deviation from this one answer is wrong.
It is clear to me that every Jew alive in Europe today is affected to some extent by the Nazis’ determination to eradicate all Jews from Europe, and perhaps even from the planet. According to Nazi policy, none of us should be here today, and there were people ready to further this policy in every country in Europe. Levels of recognition of survival are a personal matter. Who am I to reject anyone’s identity as a Holocaust survivor? There are Gypsy camp survivors (not many) and other, non-Jewish Holocaust survivors too.
Similarly, I accept anyone’s identity as a Jew. Is it not one of the important ‘lessons of Auschwitz’ that there is only one human race to which we all belong? So-called races are inventions: they are cultural groups, not races. While we have no choice but to belong to the human race, we can choose our cultural group. Inventing races takes this vital choice away when someone else, such as the Nazis, decides you are born a certain ‘race’.
The word ‘holocaust’ was first coined and fairly widely used about communities of Christians herded into their churches and burned alive by the Ottoman Turks. So there are many second-, third- and fourth-generation Christian survivors of the Ottoman holocaust. Sadly, as the human race, we have great difficulty refraining from categorising some people as more deserving and some as less deserving of something or other!
Sir – It was agreed some time ago that the term ‘Holocaust survivor’ is applied only to someone who was in a concentration camp (in Europe) and was alive on 9 May 1945 or later. Bending this simple definition for whatever reason is considered rather painful by the very few genuine survivors still alive.
Sir - I must reply to your correspondents who seem to have missed the point of my letter. I in no way sought to minimise the suffering of concentration-camp survivors, as my poem ‘A Hierarchy of Suffering?’ clearly shows. I merely wished to point out that rigid distinctions do scant justice to the experience of very young children torn from their home environment and left without identity and relatives. If they managed, despite these severe traumas, to make a life for themselves they too can be called `’survivors’.
‘THE UNHOLY LAND’
Sir - I'm not a ‘Kind’ (though just old enough to have been one), but a comfortably assimilated British Jew. Sometimes I wonder if I’m Jewish at all, but I feel a Jew most strongly when Jews are oppressed or oppress others.
Frank Bright (August) is not fair in virtually blaming the Palestinians (‘Arabs’, in his letter) for the loss of his relatives in the Holocaust. What colonised people - which is what the Palestinians were under the Mandate - would approve the entry in to their already occupied country of ‘tens of thousands’ of people, just because those people had their own Koran which deemed it their ‘Promised Land’ (though very few German Jews thought like that)?
Blame for the Holocaust remains with its perpetrators, and with the British, French, American and Russian governments, who stood by and not only watched its preparation but did business with, and sometimes even encouraged, those perpetrators (Halifax congratulating Hitler on Germany being a ‘bulwark against Communism’, Stalin and his pact).
When we understand that the Palestinians too were victims of the Holocaust, we might find ourselves on the road to a brighter future in Israel/Palestine - the ‘Unholy Land’, as I prefer to call it.
NEW BIOGRAPHY OF WHITE ROSE ACTIVIST
Sir – I was glad to see Susan Cohen’s review in your August issue of Frank McDonough’s biography of Sophie Scholl. It is perhaps worth noting that a comprehensive biography of Sophie Scholl has just been published in Germany: Sophie Scholl. Biographie, by Barbara Beuys (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 2010). It is based on all the documents relevant to the history of the Scholls and the White Rose resistance group deposited in the Institut für Zeitgeschichte in Munich.
‘VOTE, VOTE, VOTE FOR CLEMENT ATTLEE?’
Sir - Re Dr Grenville’s very interesting front-page article on Churchill and Attlee (July): the Yugoslav response to the 1945 election that I have seen quoted was ‘Your Mr Churchill – will he now take to the hills?’
DUNERA PASSENGERS ‘SAVED BY ILL-TREATMENT’
Sir – I must take issue with Martin D. Stern (August), who brought up the apocryphal story of the warm-hearted U-boat commander who had time to salvage some internee’s luggage from the Dunera dumped overboard by the guards and, after reading some letters in German, decided not to attack the ship. This is completely contrary to the facts.
It is on record that the German U-boat U-56, under the command of Oberlieutenant Harms, fired two torpedoes at a range of about 1,500 metres. This occurred on the morning of 12 July off the north coast of Ireland. It appears that both torpedoes glanced off the ship’s hull or bottom without exploding, apparently due to the ship’s zig-zagging at the time. I well remember the frightening ‘thumps’ from 70 years ago.
Sir - Further to Martin Stern’s letter, the recollection my uncle, Erich Kernek, from Linz, Austria, passed on to me was that personal belongings of both the refugees and Nazi prisoners on board were thrown into the ocean not as ill-treatment but deliberately to fool U-boat commanders into believing the Dunera had been sunk.
Sir - Re the letter from Ernst G. Aris in your July issue, I live just a few hundred yards from Lord Williams’s School and help with their Holocaust studies, which is very well taught in the school. I have copied Mr Aris’s letter to the head teacher of Lord Williams’s School, Mr David Wybron.
IN SEARCH OF A LEARNED LEGAL MIND
Sir – I am attempting to find a German-language definition beyond doubt of the words ‘einmalige Zahlung’. For me, it equates with ‘einzige Zahlen für eine volle Leistung, keine Anzahlung’. Could a learned legal mind please help me out?