|I write to lend my support to the courageous and selfless actions of a group of your students, who, in occupying the premises of their own seat of learning, have drawn attention to the plight of their fellow students and teachers – academics such as yourself, in fact – who are still suffering a brutal military occupation following the latest wave of direct military attacks upon their administrative and educational institutions. I refer, of course, to Palestine, and in particular to Gaza.
Your students’ actions are particularly far-sighted in view of the fact that those most directly affected live in a land thousands of miles from their own, yet they see that the perpetrators of these crimes are given succour and support by our own (Labour) government. They see also that such crimes against humanity affect us all; that what happens to others today, if we stand aside and watch, can and will happen to us tomorrow – and then who will come to our aid?
Your students’ actions are principled, because they understand that freedom and justice are indivisible; they recognise that a human life in the Middle East is as valuable as a human life in Britain or the US, and no propaganda can cloud their perception. What is more, your students have shown that they are prepared to sacrifice, prepared to act, and able to organise and lead.
I, too, have been appalled at the cynical manner in which Israel has used the memory of past (and abhorrent) genocide committed by the Nazis against European Slavs, trade unionists, socialists, communists, progressives and, of course, jews, as ‘moral capital’ to justify its own, equally abhorrent, ethnic cleansing in Palestine.
That the latest Israeli crimes in Gaza have aroused the disgust of all with any semblance of principle can be gauged by the fact that prominent leaders of the jewish community, so long supporters of the zionist project, are deserting Israel. See, for example, the speech of Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, in which he declared the Israelis to be “fascists”, acting toward Gaza “as the Nazis did toward the Warsaw Ghetto”. See also the principled letters of such academics as Canadians Michael and Osha Neumann (appended).
That great American singer, actor, civil-rights leader and working-class activist Paul Robeson made a broadcast from a London rally in defence of Spain during the Spanish Civil War, in which he said, apropos the rising tide of Nazism:
“Every artist, every scientist, must decide now where he stands. He has no alternative. There is no standing above the conflict on Olympian heights. There are no impartial observers. Through the destruction, in certain countries, of the greatest of man’s literary heritage, through the propagation of false ideas of racial and national superiority, the artist, the scientist, the writer is challenged. The struggle invades the formerly cloistered halls of our universities and other seats of learning. The battlefront is everywhere. There is no sheltered rear.
“And I saw, too, that the struggle for Negro [or Palestinian] rights was an inseparable part of the anti-fascist [anti-imperialist] struggle and I said:
“The artist must elect to fight for freedom or for slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”
The oppression of the Palestinians and middle-eastern peoples (Iraq, Afghanistan) is such an issue.
The same question confronts us again, and we all must choose: do we stand for slavery, or do we stand for freedom of the masses of working and oppressed people, in Palestine, in the Middle East, and, indeed, in Europe and the wider world?
Your students have shown their nobility of spirit in electing to fight for the freedom of the Palestinians. They have been courageous enough to act upon their conscience, and, in so doing, they bring credit to your university. I hope that you will share their sense of justice, and exercise your judgment and leadership to assist them in their noble aims in whatever way you can. In particular, none of your students should face any punishment for their demonstration of solidarity, and their extremely reasonable list of aims should be met in full.
Letter of Michael Neumann
20 February 2009
To the President of the State of Israel and the Director of the Yad Vashem Memorial
Remove our grandmother’s name from the wall at Yad Vashem
Following the example of Jean-Moise Braitberg, we ask that our grandmother’s name be removed from the wall at Yad Vashem. Her name is Gertrud Neumann.
Your records state that she was born in Kattowitz on 6 June 1875 and died in Theresienstadt.
M Braitberg delivers his request with excellent reasons and eloquent personal testimony. His words are inspiring, but they give you – and those who stand with you – too much credit. I will instead be brief. Please take this as an expression of my disgust and contempt for your state and all it represents.
Our grandmother was a victim of that very ideal of ethnic sovereignty in whose cause Israel has shed so much blood for so long. I was among the many jews who thought nothing of embracing that ideal, despite the sufferings it had inflicted on our own race. It took thousands of Palestinian lives before, finally, I realised how foolish we had been.
Our complicity was despicable. I do not believe that the jewish people, in whose name you have committed so many crimes with such outrageous complacency, can ever rid itself of the shame you have brought upon us. Nazi propaganda, for all its calumnies, never disgraced and corrupted the jews; you have succeeded in this. You haven’t the courage to take responsibility for your own sadistic acts: with unparalleled insolence, you set yourself up as spokesmen for an entire race, as if our very existence endorsed your conduct. And you blacken our names not only by your acts, but by the lies, the coy evasions, the smirking arrogance and the infantile self-righteousness with which you embroider our history.
In the end, you will give the Palestinians some scrap of a state. You will never pay for your crimes and you will continue to preen yourself, to bask in your illusions of moral ascendancy. But between now and the end, you will kill and kill and kill, gaining nothing by your spoilt-brat brutality. In life, our grandmother suffered enough. Stop making her a party to this horror in her death.
Letter of Osha Neumann
I join my brother, Michael Neumann, in asking that any reference to our grandmother be removed from Yad Vashem, the [jewish] holocaust memorial.
I have been to this memorial. Its buildings, paved courtyards and plazas spread themselves authoritatively over many landscaped acres. It frames the holocaust as a prelude to the creation of the state of Israel. It embalms memorabilia of the death camps and preserves them as national treasures. That treasure does not belong to Israel. It is a treasure only if it serves as a reminder never to permit any nation to claim an exemption for its chosen people from the bounds of morality and decency.
Israel has twisted the holocaust into an excuse for perpetrating more holocausts. It has spent the treasure of the world’s sympathy for the victims of the holocaust on a fruitless effort to shield itself from all criticism as it massacres and tortures Palestinians and suffocates them under a brutal occupation. I do not wish to have the memory of my grandmother enlisted in this misbegotten project.
I grew up believing that jews were that ethnic group whose historical mission was to transcend ethnicity in a united front against fascism. To be jewish was to be anti-fascist. Israel long ago woke me from my dogmatic slumber about the immutable relationship of jews to fascists. It has engineered a merger between the image of jewish torturers and war criminals and that of emaciated concentration camp victims. I find this merger obscene. I want no part of it. You have forfeited the right to be the custodian of my grandmother’s memory. I do not wish Yad Vashem to be her memorial.
> Students in support of Gaza - April 2009
> Israel fails to crush Gaza - February 2009
> Book review: Imperialism and War - April 2009
> Despite Israels brutal attack Palestinian resistance remains undefeated - Lalkar March 2009