Stephen Sizer and the abuse of Holocaust memory Part I

In 2006, Stephen Sizer visited Israel/Palestine.

While he was there, he took lots of photographs, including this one [1] of Israel’s controversial security barrier. It’s controversial because whilst Israel claims it was built to protect Israelis from being murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers, the Palestinians claim that it separates them from their fields and eats into land that might otherwise have been allocated to a future Palestinian state.

Sizer AMF

This is how Sizer captions the image:

Arbeit

“Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”) was the phrase that hung above the gates to Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Stephen Sizer therefore equated Israel’s security barrier with the systematic, industrialised genocide by the Nazis of two-thirds of European Jewry.

Isn’t he just expressing legitimate criticism of Israel?

No.

It should be pretty clear that comparing Israeli policies with the Holocaust goes way beyond simply “criticising Israel”. In case it isn’t, this is what the journalist Jonathan Freedland wrote about such comparisons in 2006 (emphasis added):

“First, they are hyperbolic: no matter how bad Israel is, it is not the Third Reich. Second, they seem designed to cancel out the world’s empathy for Jewish suffering in the 1930s and 1940s: under this logic, the Holocaust has now been ‘matched’ by Israeli misbehaviour, therefore the Jews have forfeited any claim they might once have had to special understanding. The world and the Jews are now ‘even’. Third, and worse, the Nazi-Zionist equation does not merely neutralise memories of the Holocaust – it puts Jews on the wrong side of them… Jews end up with the gravest hour in their history first taken from them – and then returned, with themselves recast as villains rather than victims. If anti-Zionists wonder why Jews find this antisemitic, perhaps they should imagine the black reaction if the civil rights movement – or any other vehicle of black liberation – was constantly equated with the white slave traders of old. It feels like a deliberate attempt to find a people’s rawest spot – and tear away at it.”

Implications

It would have been perfectly possible for Stephen Sizer to criticise Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians without using Holocaust comparisons. (In the same way as it is perfectly possible to criticise aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement, without comparing it to the slave trade.)

By making such a comparison, Sizer went beyond simply making “legitimate criticisms of the Israeli government”.

The comparison was antisemitic.

This was not the only occasion on which Rev Sizer made this antisemitic comparison: see here for Part II.

References:

[1] Sizer, S, Photographs, Palestine 2006 – Arbeit Macht Frei, originally viewed on 12 November 2008 at < htttp.www.sizers.org/photos/bethlehem/album/index.html > (NB this link no longer works)

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1 Response to Stephen Sizer and the abuse of Holocaust memory Part I

  1. Pingback: Stephen Sizer and the abuse of Holocaust memory Part II | Large Blue Footballs

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