Increasingly January 27, ‘International Holocaust Remembrance Day’ is being misused and abused. This year was no exception with three prominent cases:
Firstly, there was Gerald Scarfe’s cartoon in the Sunday Times on January 27, which depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall on the bodies of Palestinians and using their blood as cement. The cartoon was widely criticised for being reminiscent of antisemitic blood libels.
While the cartoon and its timing were shocking, credit must be given to Rupert Murdoch whose News Corp. owns the Sunday Times, for quickly apologising for the cartoon on Twitter. Murdoch wrote:
“Gerald Scarfe has never reflected the opinions of the Sunday Times. Nevertheless, we owe [a] major apology for [the] grotesque, offensive cartoon.”
Scarfe later apologised for the timing of the cartoon but rejected accusations that he was antisemitic. He said:”I was, however, stupidly completely unaware that it would be printed on Holocaust Day, and I apologize for the very unfortunate timing.” Nevertheless, the editors did choose to publish the cartoon and on that day.
Secondly, there were former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s comments also on January 27 praising Italy’s former fascist dictator Benito Mussolini who was allied with Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Berlusconi said Mussolini’s antisemitic race laws were the most blameworthy initiative of someone ”who, in many other ways, by contrast, did well”. The Italian Union of Jewish Communities President Renzo Gattegna among many others condemned Berlusconi’s remarks, he said:
”The comments are not only superficial and inappropriate but are designed to leave the impression Italy decided to persecute and exterminate its own Jews to please a powerful ally.”
However, most concerning were the outrageous comments made by Fathi Shihab-Eddim, a senior figure close to Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi who chose January 27 to deny the Holocaust. Eddim reportedly said:
“The myth of the Holocaust is an industry that America invented… U.S. intelligence agencies in cooperation with their counterparts in allied nations during World War II created it [the Holocaust] to destroy the image of their opponents in Germany, and to justify war and massive destruction against military and civilian facilities of the Axis powers, and especially to hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atomic bomb.”
Eddim also claimed that the six million Jews moved to the United States during World War II. As Eric Trager noted in the Atlantic, the Muslim Brotherhood has a long history of Holocaust denial.
Efraim Zuroff, Israel Director of the Jerusalem-based Simon Weisenthal Center, said that Eddim’s remarks show a dangerous but common mindset:
“The sad truth is that these views are relatively common in the Arab world and are the result of ignorance on one hand and of government-sponsored Holocaust denial on the other hand.”
Eddim’s statement follows revelations that President Morsi made antisemitic remarks in 2010, when he said that Jews were “the descendants of apes and pigs.” Morsi later implied that the remarks were taken out of context by ‘Jewish media’. However, Mohammed el-Baradei, a leading figure in Egypt’s secular opposition rejected Morsi’s weak explanation:
“We are all aware that those statements were not taken out of context and that this discourse is very common among a large number of clerics and members of Islamist groups… Apart from the remarks themselves, I am calling upon the person who made them to courageously admit either the real stance he and the Muslim Brotherhood and their followers adopt, or how mistaken they had been for all those years.”
While International Holocaust Remembrance Day was intended to honour the victims of the Nazi era and promote global education on the Shoah, as Manfred Gerstenfeld, an expert on antisemitism has noted in Ynet, there is an increasing phenomenon of ‘Holocaust inversion’:
“Today’s reality is such however, that whatever is Jewish, will come under attack. This also happens in a variety of countries with memorial events related to the Holocaust. Anti-Semites paint graffiti on Holocaust monuments, and the Holocaust is denied by other anti-Semites. In 2009, the important Norwegian TV2 television station broadcast an interview with convicted British Holocaust denier David Irving. The broadcaster even financed Irving’s travel to Norway and his hotel expenses. The journalist who interviewed him displayed little knowledge of the topics discussed…
Italian journalist Angelo Pezzana relates how International Holocaust Remembrance Day is abused in many parts of Italy: ‘Marking the 27th of January as a day of remembrance has turned it into a national event where everyone can express his opinion, however miserable. The latter happens mostly in schools. Meetings are held with hundreds of students present, where extreme leftist professors are invited to speak. They present the Shoah in a distorted way. This leads to a public debate usually linking the crimes of the Nazis to Israeli policies.'”
Sadly such trends, comments and cartoons are vivid reminders of the importance of global Holocaust education, which becomes even more critical as Holocaust survivors inevitably depart this world.