Jeremy Beecham: Whatever our differences, we can pledge our abhorrence to the Holocaust

Labour peer and former Newcastle Council leader Lord Beecham responds to the split in Newcastle's Holocaust Memorial Committee

Sir Jeremy Beecham at Newcastle Civic Centre
Sir Jeremy Beecham at Newcastle Civic Centre

I join Coun Jackie Slesenger in deploring the moral relativism which singles out Israel for condemnation while saying little and doing less about the loss of life and human rights abuses in other countries and conflicts.

Describing the Israeli Defence Force as “Netanyahu’s Storm Troopers”, as one contributor to the Journal’s letter page did, was grotesque.

And I share her concern about the disturbing rise of anti-semitism for which the events in Gaza have served as a pretext.

I confess I have some doubts about Coun Dipu Ahad’s actions on his recent trip to Israel and Palestine, but to suggest he was motivated by “racial intolerance” appears to imply that he is also guilty of anti-semitism.

That is simply wrong. Coun Ahad has chaired the Holocaust Memorial Committee in the same spirit as Coun Slesenger during her highly successful tenure of that position.

He has condemned anti-semitism and visited Auschwitz, from which he returned deeply moved. He remains committed to the objectives of Holocaust Memorial Day, the need to remember the suffering of the millions of Jews who were slaughtered and of the other victims of Nazi barbarity, especially in what will be the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebrenica in Bosnia

But the Memorial Day and the events which mark it are not just about memory and mourning. They are an important contribution to today’s society and tomorrow’s, in which we need to recognise that we are members one of another, whatever our ethnic, national or religious origins and practices may be.

The purpose was well described in the theme of the National Holocaust Memorial Event in 2007 which my son directed here in Newcastle under the title of “The Dignity of Difference”.

I understand, but nevertheless regret, the decision of members of the local Jewish Community, of which I too am proud to be a member, to withdraw from the Committee.

Coun Slesenger rightly refers to the work that people of all faiths and from the three main political parties have done to promote “harmonious race relations” in our City.

That the chair of the committee has been a Muslim for the last few years has underlined the strength of that sense of shared humanity which characterises our diverse community.

I hope that whatever differences there may be over events in the Middle East, differences which can be found within Israel itself, we can come together to pledge our renewed abhorrence of the Holocaust and other genocides and the racism and intolerance which drove them, and convey to the younger generation in particular the need to respect that dignity of difference.

  • Lord Beecham is a Labour peer and a former leader of Newcastle City Council.

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