Jackie Walker is wrong about Holocaust Memorial Day – and should know better

Those on the left show wilful ignorance when they repeat discredited stereotypes


As a researcher at HOPE not hate, a historian of fascism and a proud member of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Board of Trustees, I read the comments by vice-chair of Momentum Jackie Walker with a mixture of shock and sadness.

Speaking at a much-needed training session on antisemitism at the Labour Party conference, Walker asked: ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust Day was open to all peoples who’ve experienced Holocaust?’

It is. Holocaust Memorial Day (HMD) commemorates the Holocaust, victims of Nazi persecution and the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. Even the most cursory of glance at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website would reveal this information on the home page.

Walker, who was previously suspended from the party over alleged antisemitic comments on Facebook, also appeared to denigrate the need for security at Jewish schools – at a time of heightened terror risks and international attacks against Jewish targets in Europe over the past few years – stating: ‘I still haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with.’

Walker has since offered half an apology for any offence caused, though she does not seem to have fully retracted her statements regarding HMD. However, the question remains why she made such ill-informed statements in the first place.

To say things aren’t made clear, as Walker suggests, is clearly a result of her failure to engage with Holocaust Memorial Day itself. Anyone who has attended any of the thousands of HMD events (there are about 5,500 every year up and down the UK) would know how inclusive they are, especially the wonderful national event.

Those who watched last year’s national commemoration on TV or in the audience will not have forgotten the heartbreaking and shocking film, The Bosnian War, featuring Omarska concentration camp survivor Kemal Pervanić.

The charge that HMD is not inclusive enough was also recently levelled by students during the National Union of Students (NUS) conference. Why has such a fallacy seemingly gained traction on parts of the Left? Sadly, the short answer seems wilful ignorance.

The Holocaust was a unique historical event and the scholarly literature surrounding it is vast. The Final Solution was designed to exterminate every single Jewish man, woman and child, thus marking this genocide out as unique in the modern age.

Either purposefully or by mistake, some appear to misunderstand declarations of uniqueness as an attempt to detract from the suffering of other groups in other conflicts and facing other persecutions. It is nothing of the sort.

For some, undermining the uniqueness of the Holocaust can be a means to undermine the legitimacy of the state of Israel, which they argue draws this legitimacy from the ‘use’ or even ‘abuse’ of the Holocaust. While criticism of Israel and its policies is perfectly acceptable, any attempt to minimise or relativize the Holocaust for political aims in this manner is shameful. Paradoxically it also undermines the legitimate Palestinian struggle.

While the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is absolutely right to commemorate subsequent genocides, and does so proudly, one can’t help but ask why Walker has an issue with commemorating the mass extermination of six million Jews in its own right?

Clearly her latest statements are bad enough but it is worth remembering that she has been caught out before, writing on Facebook: ‘What debt do we owe the Jews?’ and stating that Jews ‘were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade’.

The myth that Jews were behind the slave trade is an import from the American antisemite Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, who pushed the idea in a book titled The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews: Volume One.

The conspiratorial antisemitism of the book was exposed by all serious scholars with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at Harvard University calling it ‘The Bible of new anti-Semitism’ and stating that it ‘massively misinterprets the historical record, largely through a process of cunningly selective quotations of often reputable sources’.

In 1995 the American Historical Association issued a statement condemning ‘any statement alleging that Jews played a disproportionate role in the Atlantic slave trade.’

The fact that Walker repeated this antisemitic trope shows that she is, at the very least, susceptible to believing negative antisemitic stereotypes. When viewing her latest comments in the context of her history of similar prejudicial statements, it seems clear that her position at Momentum should also be untenable.

It is true that some people on the Right are using antisemitism as a charge to attack the Left, yet it is also true that there is a problem with leftwing antisemitism. The two are not mutually exclusive.

Jeremy Corbyn’s comments yesterday condemning antisemitism as evil are a welcome departure from general denouncements of ‘all prejudice’. Now it is time to move beyond words and condemnations and to act against those engaging in or being sympathetic towards antisemitism within the Labour Party.

Joe Mulhall is senior researcher for HOPE not hate, where this blog was orginally published. Follow him at @JoeMulhall_

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23 Responses to “Jackie Walker is wrong about Holocaust Memorial Day – and should know better”

  1. Becky

    I also think Walker was wrong on this too. However, the worse thing she said as far as I’m concerned is the absolute untruth that Jews were responsible for the slave trade. As I see it, this is just as bizarre and offensive as blaming the Jews for the other, similar array of historical tragedies such as the First World War, the Wall Street Crash, hyper-inflation in Weimar Germany…do you see where this is going? I wonder if she’d have been reinstated in the Labour Party if she’d said that Jews were responsible for Germany losing WWI, for instance!

  2. Becky

    Moreover, what’s wrong with having a specific day to remember the victims of the holocaust? Why the need to add remembrance of the victims of other tragedies to it? If someone were to suggest that Black History Month become simply History Month because it wasn’t only black people who were slaves at any given time then they’d most probably be racists with an ulterior far-right white supremacist agenda attempting to erase the black experience of racism and slavery.

  3. Paul Franklin

    I was brought up as an anti-semite. I’m 67 years old. I know very well what it is. It isn’t like ‘other forms of racism’. It’s very special. I am also a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. I feel that we’re all now going through a very important moment of education. Expelling Walker will achieve little. Unpicking her confusion would be better. It took me a lifetime to really understand how Jews feel about this. Don’t expect any quick answers. But please do let us discuss. This is most important.

  4. Imran Khan

    I knew I knew the name southpaw punch. He usually writes barely coherent rubbish of Tendency Coatsie. I think he is still of the opinion that the former corrupt Mayor of Tower Hamlets Lutfur Rahman is innocent and was the victim of an Islamophobic conspiracy.

  5. Ro Atkinson

    I think it is unfair to make any accusation towards the Labour party that it is now the ‘nasty party’ based upon the heavily weighted accusations of antisemitism. The Labour party is trying desperately to stamp out all antisemitism and prejudice of any kind. To suggest that they are not doing so is to suggest that their policies might include trying to avoid getting into power by any means. It is not logical that they would look at the criticism and accusations of antisemitism and think to themselves, ‘we really aren’t trying hard enough to offend here, we ought to ramp up our efforts’. It is on the other hand very logical to assume that the PR teams on the right would be putting a huge amount of effort into perpetuating the ridiculous accusations in an effort to keep Labour out of power. It is better to judge a political party by its actions, not by the accusations made at it by those who wish to keep it out of power. If political parties are judged according that their actions then it is very clear to see that the tories remain the ‘nasty party’. Their actions are harmful to all without prejudice, unless you count the favourable treatment for the greedy, selfish and exploitative.

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