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Brian Sewell Reaches New Heights
Last uploaded : Monday 16th Apr 2007 at 04:00
Contributed by : Carol Gould


16 April 2007
(Yom Ha' Shoah/Israel's Holocaust Memorial Day)

Recently Jonathan Freedland wrote a scathing attack in the British ‘Jewish Chronicle’ on fellow journalist Melanie Phillips entitled ‘The Danger of Melanie Phillips.’

He prefaced his commentary, which is unfortunately not available online, with a remorseful aside that it is unseemly for a journalist to attack another. However, he felt compelled to launch an assault on the lone, brave voice of reason in Anglo-Jewry and conservative British media.

In turn I regret having to do this, but for some weeks I have been agonising over one sentence -- yes, a sentence -- in an editorial by my fellow journalist Brian Sewell, who is also an eminent British art critic and raconteur. In his article ( The Evening Standard, London 2 March 2007)

about the bicentenary anniversary of the abolition of slavery championed by William Wilberforce, Sewell makes the following statement:

‘ The historical slave trade was a business at least as appalling as the Holocaust, with many, many more victims, and like the Holocaust its memory has been hijacked by the descendants of those victims and turned into a scourge with which to whip guilt into society…’

Now, let us take this apart with care. First, Sewell, who has in the past been known for his sudden outbursts against Jewish aspirations and Israel, the most memorable having been his bizarre attack on the ‘greedy Jews’ of Manchester wanting a Holocaust Museum, is using a recent mantra about slavery and the Holocaust. This was used a fortnight ago on BBC ‘Question Time’ when an audience member and panellist, in turn, referred to ‘the Jewish Holocaust’ as having paled in significance when placed next to the slave trade.

In Britain, during this time of reflection about the slave trade, there has been much discussion about the Holocaust. The media are allowing comments to go unchallenged that assert the ‘small number who died’ compared to those who died during the slave trade. Yes, slavery was an obscenity and yes, millions died. But there is one important difference: no matter how abhorrent the traders, in both black Africa and the white West, no -one set out to deliberately gas, torture, perform hideous medical experiments on, and otherwise starve to death one race of people. Nor did one nation deliberately set out to establish death camps for the sole purpose of complete genocide of the world population of that people.

In fact, no matter how bad slavery was, it bears no resemblance whatsoever to the systematic and efficient extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis. Had the Second World War been won by the Axis Powers, World Jewry would have been annihilated. They would not have been sent to farms as slaves but simply gassed or tortured to death.

Second, Sewell offers the outrageous suggestion that the Holocaust is being used by the ‘descendants’ of survivors and turned into a ‘scourge.’ How dare he suggest that Yad Vashem, the Washington Holocaust Museum, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the Nottingham Holocaust Memorial set up by the Christian Smith family are part of a ‘scourge?’

The extermination of Jewish Europe by many complicit governments was the scourge, Mr Sewell, not the worthy memorial buildings and annual remembrances of what Churchill called the worst atrocity ever perpetrated upon humanity. One is reminded of the cruel remark by British historian AN Wilson when a small bust of Anne Frank was placed in the forecourt of the new British Library building: he complained that she had no place there as ‘she had never read at the British Library.’ Oh, Mr Wilson, she might have read and gone very far in letters had some British civil servant approved a few more exit visas for Dutch Jews.

Brian Sewell says the descendants of Holocaust survivors have hijacked the Shoah. Just what does this mean? Why do the children and grandchildren of the remnant of European Jewry need to hijack anything? The survivors, some of whom are still in their sixties, having been child inmates of the work-until-you-die or are tortured-to-death camps, who have the grotesque tattoos on their arms, are living testaments to the horrors of the greatest anti-Semitic pogrom in history.

Furthermore, the trauma of being a child or grandchild of a Holocaust victim or survivor has proven to be a major problem for these millions of trouble individuals across the globe. How would Mr Sewell have liked to have been raised, as was my best chum at school, by two people who met in Dr Mengele’s child torture rooms at Auschwitz? How would Mr Sewell have liked to have lived with parents who recounted every day the unspeakable acts of barbarity they witnessed as their families were cruelly exterminated in front of their own eyes?

Is this ‘hijack?’

Mr Sewell suggests the descendants of Holocaust survivors and victims are whipping up society with guilt. I know no Holocaust-affected family or individual who has set out to whip up guilt. The evidence of the death camps is there to see. Notwithstanding the disgraceful assertions of British Holocaust deniers and the boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day by the Muslim Council of Britain, the archives and films and testimony are there to see and hear. Who was guilty? The men convicted at Nuremberg. Eichmann. Had the remainder of world Jewry truly sought vengeance after World War II there would be few Christians left alive in Europe.

It is an irony that in the same edition of ‘The Evening Standard’ in which Brian Sewell’s article appeared (2 March 2007) there is a long article about the film ‘Freedom Writers’ starring Hilary Swank as the Los Angeles schoolteacher who tames a class of wild and violent teenagers by introducing them to the story of Anne Frank. She takes them to the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and they meet actual Holocaust survivors, who show them the concentration camp tattoos on their frail, aging arms.

The teenagers’ lives are transformed. What is so significant about the story is that only one student in the entire class had even heard of the Holocaust. This non- Jewish teacher, whose father had been of the GI generation in World War II, realised that by teaching Holocaust studies the conflicts amongst these troubled youths would evaporate when set alongside the abject horrors of the Shoah.

Recently the British Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, one of the most decorous public figures about, commented that ‘we are in a tsunami of anti-Semitism.‘ Brian Sewell’s crass comments about the Holocaust reflect a troubling trend in Britain: Jews, Zionism and Holocaust remembrance are under frequent attack from various quarters and if this continues, the ‘hijack’ will not be the issue; a repeat of a nationally-led anti-Semitic pogrom will be the real and serious problem.

Finally, one little point about Israel: as this editorial goes to press my union, the NUJ (National Union of Journalism) has voted at its annual conference in Birmingham, England to boycott Israeli goods. This same weekend a reader of my articles has taken the trouble to write to me : ‘Why is it abhorrent to believe that the creation of Israel was a crime against humanity?’ And then there is the aside by British columnist Yasmin Alibhai Brown about fellow writer Barbara Amiel: ’Now I detest the woman’s views -- her particularly rabid Zionism..’

A British tsunami of anti-Semitism indeed.


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