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The Holocaust, the BBC and Antisemitism Smears

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Senior BBC news reporter Orla Guerin has found herself in hot water of an increasingly familiar kind. During a report on preparations for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp, she made a brief reference to Israel and an even briefer reference to the Palestinians. Her reporting coincided with Israel hosting world leaders last week at Yad Vashem, its Holocaust remembrance centre in Jerusalem.

Here is what Guerin said over footage of Yad Vashem:

"In Yad Vashem's Hall of Names, images of the dead. Young [Israeli] soldiers troop in to share in the binding tragedy of the Jewish people. The state of Israel is now a regional power. For decades, it has occupied Palestinian territories. But some here will always see their nation through the prism of persecution and survival."

British Jewish community leaders and former BBC executives leapt on her "offensive" remarks, even accusing her of antisemitism. Guerin had dared, unlike any of her colleagues in the western media, to allude to the terrible price inflicted on the Palestinian people by the west's decision to help the Zionist movement create a Jewish state shortly after the Holocaust. The Palestinians were dispossessed of their homeland as apparent compensation at least for those Jews who became citizens of Israel for Europe's genocidal crimes.

Guerin's was a very meek bland even reference to the predicament of the Palestinians after Europe's sponsorship, from the 1917 Balfour Declaration onwards, of a Jewish state on their homeland. There was no mention of the Palestinians' undoubted suffering over many decades or of Israel's documented war crimes against the Palestinians. All that Guerin referred to was an indisputable occupation that followed, and one could argue was a legacy of, Israel's creation.

Holocaust weaponised

In fact, as we shall see in a moment, Israel's establishment is today invariably and necessarily justified by antisemitism and its ultimate, horrifying expression in the Holocaust. The two are now inextricably intertwined. So Guerin's linking of these two events is not only legitimate, it is required in any proper analysis of the consequences of the Holocaust and of European racism.

In fact, the furore among Jewish groups in Britain seems all the more perverse given that the Israeli media have extensively reported on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's explicit efforts to weaponise the current Holocaust commemorations to harm the Palestinians.

He hopes to leverage sympathy over the Holocaust to win assistance from western capitals in bullying the International Criminal Court in the Hague into denying that it has any jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories Israel is occupying. That would prevent the court from enforcing international law by investigating war crimes perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians. (In fact, aware of the diplomatic stakes, the ICC's prosecutors have so far shown zero appetite for pursuing those investigations.)

This extract from a commentary by noted Israeli human rights activist Hagai El-Ad, published in the liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz (Israel's version of the New York Times), gives a proper sense of how inadequate was Guerin's solitary reference to the Palestinians and how her colleagues are actually complicit through their silence in allowing Israel to weaponise antisemitism and the Holocaust to oppress Palestinians:

"How dehumanizing [of Netanyahu and the Israeli government], to insist on denying a people's last recourse to even an uncertain, belated, modicum of justice [at the ICC]. How degrading to do so while standing on the shoulders of Holocaust survivors, insisting that this is somehow being carried out in their name. "

"It remains in our hands to decide if the past's painful lessons will be allowed to be turned on their head in order to further oppression or remain loyal to a vision of freedom and dignity, justice and rights, for all."

History in the shadows

By not echoing the rest of the western media in entirely airbrushing the Palestinians out of Europe's post-Holocaust history, Guerin stood isolated and exposed. None of her colleagues supposedly fearless, muckraking journalists appear willing to come to her aid. She has been made a scapegoat, a sacrificial victim one that will serve as a future reminder to her colleagues of what they are permitted to mention, which parts of Europe's history they may examine and which parts must remain forever in the shadows.

Guerin's comment was denounced as "offensive" by her former boss, Danny Cohen, who was previously the director of BBC television. No one, of course, cares that the Palestinians' experience of being wiped out of recent European history and its legacy in the Middle East is deeply offensive. The Palestinians are what historian Mark Curtis refers to as "Unpeople".

What he and others meant by "offensive" was made explicit by the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), which argued that Guerin's statement was antisemitic.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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