Prior to Holocaust Memorial Day — officially commemorated across Europe on Sunday — a Book of Commitment was placed in the British House of Commons for Members of Parliament to sign. The purpose of this simple act is to “publicly commit both to remembering the Holocaust and to working towards a future in which prejudice and hatred are never again allowed to gain a foothold in society.”
After placing his name in the Book, however, David Ward (MP for Bradford East) felt it necessary to issue an addendum of sorts on his website. His postlude could hardly have been more opposite to the spirit of his earlier dedication to tolerance and reflection, replicating as they did what Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks calls one of the “great slanders of our time: that Jews, victims of the Holocaust, are now perpetrators of a similar crime.” Here is what Ward wrote:
Having visited Auschwitz twice - once with my family and once with local schools - I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.
In the hours following the public dissemination of his comments, instead of showing the sort of shame and penitence such barefaced bigotry demands, Ward reached for his shovel, thumping and scratching at the scarred earth beneath him. Initially, Ward attempted to utilise a quote from Elie Wiesel in his defence.
“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” he cited in part. Wiesel did not much care for this: “Although he quotes me correctly, I am outraged that he uses my words at the same time he utters shameless slanders on the State of Israel.”
Reminiscing on the golden days of Jewish American activism, two heroes of the Soviet Jewry movement took to the stage at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in its main plenary session on Monday.
Natan Sharansky, the former refusnik who is now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Nobel peace prize laureate Eli Wiesel, shared the stage as the Jewish community marked the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington, a seminal moment in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry and a high point in Jewish mobilization for a national cause.
The idea for the march on Washington, planned to coincide with a meeting between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, came from both sides of the Iron Curtain, with activists on both ends sharing the vision of a massive call for opening immigration doors to Soviet Jews. Sharansky was released from the Russian prison several months before the December 6 protest, which brought more than 250,000 Jewish activists to the nation’s capital.
“We showed how strong we are as a people,” Sharansky said. “When we feel this power, as one people and one family, we can change the world.”
Elie Wiesel announced today his decision to renounce a Hungarian state award he received in 2004. Hungary has been “whitewashing” its fascist history during World War II, Wiesel said, including attempting to rebury the ashes of a writer, Jozsef Nyiro, a member of the notorious pro-Nazi Arrow Cross, in his native Transylvania.
As Wiesel put it, “I found it outrageous that the Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly could participate in a ceremony honoring a Hungarian fascist ideologue.”
From what we can tell, an op-ed in the Forward by James Kirchick earlier this month was the only real exposure the botched reburial received in this country. And it appears that Wiesel wrote his letter a day after our story posted. So we hereby take credit for the shaming of the Hungarians!
Kirchick wrote about the attempt by the Hungarian government to bring Nyiro’s ashes to his ancestral village, which is now in Romania, and the refusal by the Romanians to let the ceremony take place.
Wiesel got the message that the Hungarian government now has an extreme revisionist agenda with regards to its collaborationist history: “It has become increasingly clear that Hungarian authorities are encouraging the whitewashing of tragic and criminal episodes in Hungary’s past, namely the wartime Hungarian governments’ involvement in the deportation and murder of hundreds of thousands of its Jewish citizens.”
Israelism, the idea of a nation or people’s direct descent from one of the ten lost tribes of Israel, or the appropriation of Jewish ideas or texts for use in new belief systems, is not unique to the Mormon faith. At the height of British imperial power in the early twentieth century, notions of a lineage from King David to the House of Windsor were too at their zenith. The country’s national canon is awash with Israelism and references to Jerusalem, ranging from the King James Bible to the poetry of William Blake.
But it is the recent spate of stories regarding Mormon posthumous baptism of deceased Jews — an activity, it should be noted, which is neither secretive nor obscure within the faith — including Anne Frank, Simon Wiesenthal, Daniel Pearl, and the not-yet-dead Elie Wiesel that has brought into question the peculiar relationship which exists between Mormonism and Judaism, one where feelings of love and admiration very much journey down a one way street.
On the one hand, as a branch of Christianity, there is nothing inherently unusual about the fact that 25,000 words of the Book of Mormon are taken directly from the Old Testament. Nor that, of the 350 names published in the text, more than 100 are lifted straight out of the Bible, and the same amount again are near matches.
Yet there is something inherently distinctive about the Latter Day Saints’ origin story. For, Mormons believe themselves to be the spiritual descendants of the Nephites, a lost tribe of Israel who led by the prophet Lehi fled Jerusalem around 600 BC at the time of the Babylonian conquest, ending their journey in the New World by 586 BC.
The golden plates from which the Book of Mormon is derived were claimed, by the faith’s founder Joseph Smith, to have been revealed to him in upstate New York by the angel Moroni, the last Nephite who chronicled the adventures of his wandering tribe after it was all but wiped out by the Lamanites (another lost tribe) in a series of wars which occurred in the 4th century AD. The baptisms themselves occur in large fonts of water that rest upon twelve oxen, representative of the tribes of Israel.