SOMETIMES even the most commonplace of objects can take on a dreadful meaning.
Driving through Poland last week the road signs pointing to towns associated with concentration camps and ghettos were a sharp reminder of how real the Holocaust was.
I had begun to consider the Holocaust as just another historical aberration; something that happened in another time in another place. Wandering around the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin I have wondered if perhaps it was time for people to get over it and move on. When I visited the Holocaust Memorial in Miami, I even began to wonder if it was all becoming emotionally exploitative.
Back in the grey and drizzle of Poland, the pastel shades and blue skies of Miami Beach seem to be a very long way away and I realise that if people are not educated and reminded about what happened at Krakow and Auschwitz then the chances of if happening again will only grow.
In the 21st century we think that the tragedy of the ghetto, and the horrors of the slave labour camp and mass extermination, are impossible and that an enlightened international community, supported by regiments of well-funded human rights activists will ensure that any such terrible threat would be rapidly curtailed. Such complacency is badly misplaced.
Arriving at Brussels airport is never fun, and on my latest visit there it was made even more unpleasant by a crowd of pro-Palestine activists in the arrivals hall, screaming and banging drums. I found the experience intimidating; I cannot even imagine how frightening it would have been for someone Jewish.
The protestors were making a fuss because some of their ilk had been refused entry to Israel. The Israeli border security officers gave them the following letter and sent them packing:
We appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns. We know there were many other worthy choices. You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime’s daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives.
You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world. You could have chosen to protest Hamas rule in Gaza, where terror organisations commit a double war crime by firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians.
But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy, where women are equal, the press criticises the government, human rights organisations can operate freely, religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear.
Therefore we suggest to let you solve first the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience.
Have a nice flight.
It is perhaps worth noting that people who travel to Arab states to protest against Islamic regimes tend to get decapitated rather than letters full of Jewish humour.
It is claimed that opposition to Israeli government policies does not equate to calling for a new Holocaust. There should be absolutely no doubt that it often does.
Hamas, a Palestine political movement, has a charter that states “our struggle against the Jews is very great”, and calls for the obliteration or dissolution of Israel. It repeats conspiracy theories that have been used to persecute Jews for centuries and quotes Islamic texts supporting the killing of Jews and calls for jihad, until “victory or martyrdom”.
The other main Palestinian party, Fatah, differs little – its leader and current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has said that no Jews should be allowed to live in any future Palestinian state.
Let us get this clear, the two main Palestinian political movements are calling for an ethnically cleansed state and the forced removal or death of Jews. Where have we heard that before? Is it any wonder Israelis get twitchy?
The Palestine movement has managed to attract support from left-wing organisations in the western world. Liberal celebrities, British university lecturers and the usual jar of assorted nuts like to denounce Israel as an apartheid state and call for boycotts.
Sex Pistol John Lydon (nee Rotten) is a rare dissenting voice – when Palestinian activists issued threats and tried to bully him into cancelling a concert in Tel Aviv he responded: “If Elvis Costello wants to pull out of a gig in Israel because he’s suddenly got this compassion for Palestinians, then good on him. But... until I see an Arab country, a Muslim country, with a democracy, I won’t understand how anyone can have a problem with how they’re treated.”
Israel is the region’s only true democracy and Israeli Jews differ in their views: there are orthodox warmongers, secular hippy chicks, and all shades in between. When Israeli governments get things wrong they get criticised in the media and they get voted out.
Israel does too often rise to the bait and over-react to Palestinian provocation, but those who use slogans such as ‘apartheid state’ need to think again.
In 1946 there were nearly one million Jews in Arab countries, today there are fewer than 25,000. Meanwhile the Arab population in Israel has grown steadily to around 1.5 million, about 20 per cent of the population, a quarter of who vote for Zionistic political parties.
Seventeen of the 120 members of the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) are Arab. The new Israeli Ambassador to Norway is Arab.
By many accounts it is not always easy being an Arab in Israel, but most of them are ensured of greater rights and freedoms there than in most of the Islamic states in the Middle East.
So the next time you see people sounding off against Israel, think of Krakow and Auschwitz, and remember the lessons of history.