It seems remarkable to me that we can mark a national day in the calendar to reflect on man’s inhumanity to man and make speeches about Building Bridges – Communities Together, while our flagship national newspaper publishes material that could and did offend those that suffered in the Holocaust. Here at the London Jewish Cultural Centre we hold an annual event to honour those survivors who, despite their advanced years, continue to work tirelessly with us telling their painful stories to young people and reliving the horrors and loss that they endured. For them Israel was the only safe refuge when no-one else would take them in and this was not the day to make a graphic political statement about it.
We too might have caused offence when it was brought to our attention that a speaker coming to a literary event during the week of Holocaust Memorial Day had, in the past, made some inflammatory comments about how we remember the Holocaust. The decision was made to postpone the event to a later date. We do not expect everyone who comes here to share our view of the world and in fact we believe it is crucial that we debate and discuss alternative views to our own in public forum. However, there is a time to provide a platform and a time to stand firm on principle.
Holocaust Memorial Day was intended not only to commemorate all those that have died in genocides but to become a beacon of hope for the future, inspiring the young to fight racism wherever they encounter it. But will they always know when they are encountering it? Exposure to ‘reality’ programmes on mainstream TV such as My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding or even Jewish Mum of the Year may hamper their understanding of how prejudices are formed and held. A recent debate here on the latter showed that feelings run high when the spotlight on a few is seen to be unrepresentative and damaging to the whole.
In three weeks’ time Professor Robert Wistrich will join us to talk about his new book focusing on Holocaust Denial. In a world where such a book is still relevant and necessary, we have to wonder about the influence of the media on public perceptions of ethnic groups and faiths. There is little point building a bridge if we are not prepared to cross it and keep crossing it openly, without fear, suspicion or hostility.