Sunday, March 05, 2006

Holocaust survivor comes under attack

as reactionary witch-hunt comes home

HENRY Guterman didn't agree with Guardian writer Chris McGreal's article comparing Israel with Apartheid South Africa. In a letter to the paper on 12 February, 2006, Henry said he was surprised McGreal could "insult millions of Black South Africans who suffered under a true Apartheid regime, by comparing it with what is happening in Israel/Palestine". Pointing out differences, the Jewish letter writer wondered whether the Guardian's Israel Correspondent was writing from "ignorance of the facts" or worse.

You might think supporters of the State of Israel would be glad to have someone like octogenarian Henry battling for the facts, as he sees them, but there's little gratitude in these circles, and even less rachmones, compassion or generosity of human spirit, for those who don't stay in line.

Henry Guterman is a Holocaust survivor with long service to the Jewish community's organisations and promoting inter-faith dialogues. He is no anti-Zionist campaigner or signer of petitions criticising Israel or supporting Palestinian rights. Indeed, as we have seen, he writes to complain about an attack on Israeli society that he considers unfair and ill-judged. But this isn't enough to save him when the witch-hunt comes to town.

"Guterman not spokesman, says council", reported Estelle Beninson in the Jewish Chronicle this week. "Senior members of the Jewish community this week moved to distance themselves from remarks made by Henry Guterman, a former president of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council. Mr Guterman, who is a member of the council executive, appeared at a Unite Against Fascism meeting in London on February 18 with London Mayor Ken Livingstone, whose suspension for likening a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard is pending a judicial review.

" In addition, he was quoted in the local press denying that the mayor was antisemitic or anti-Israel. On Tuesday, Louis Rapaport, president of the JRC, issued the following official statement: "We, the honorary officers of the Jewish Representative Council, have resolved to make it clear that Henry Guterman does not represent this council and the views he expresses are entirely personal. He does not have any authority to speak or write on behalf of the community, except within the interfaith organisations where he has been elected to office."

Those of us who take part in anti-racist activity and join campaigns opposing Nazi Holocaust deniers and the BNP will not be over-surprised by this. We have grown used to not seeing any representatives of "mainstream" Jewish organisations on anti-Nazi platforms, not because they were not invited, but because with rare and honourable exceptions like Henry Guterman, the official "representatives" of the community do not want to know.

It was Henry Guterman's friends in Unite Against Fascism and similar groups who opposed French fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen when he was invited to the Manchester area, just as it was they who organised the demonstration last year when Jewish graves in West Ham cemetery were vandalised. It was the left-wing anti-fascists and trades unionists who protested at the BNP being allowed to invade a Holocaust memorial ceremony in Oldham with the connivance of Greater Manchester Police. What happened to the Board of Deputies' complaint?

But some self-appointed Jewish spokespersons are not satisfied with separating themselves from Henry Guterman. As the JC report continues:
"Mr Guterman, who is co-chairman of the Muslim Jewish Forum and co-chairman of Manchester Council of Christians and Jews, was criticised this week by Dr Irene Lancaster of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, who is also an interfaith and academic advisor to Anglicans for Israel. Dr Lancaster called for Mr Guterman's removal as an executive member of the Manchester Jewish Representative Council and as vice-chair of local CCJ, saying:
"In the wake of many events which have hurt and harmed the Jewish community in the UK and abroad, it is of the greatest importance that Jewish people on representative bodies represent the community in word and deed. To appear on a platform with this man when he was being investigated by the appropriate authorities is the behaviour of someone who does not represent our community.

"Members of the Jewish community who seek to defend Ken Livingstone have forfeited the right to hold office on representative bodies," she added. "

Ironically as it may seem, it was left to Lucille Cohen of the Zionist Central Council to defend Henry Guterman and pay tribute to his record of combatting fascism. Indeed. We might wonder how Mrs.Lancaster's record would compare?

It just goes to show inadequate "Zionist" is as a term for some of the reactionaries now plaguing Jewish life. I'd guess Ms.Cohen is of the old school who thought Zionism could go with genuine belief in democracy and the rights of fellow-Jews. Apparently Dr.Irene Lancaster, honorary fellow of Manchester University's Jewish Studies Centre, is a self-claimed Orthodox Jew who spends much of her time berating hapless Anglicans for "betraying the Jews" every time some cleric ventures to suggest there is something immoral about Israeli occupation policies and repression.

It is an old saying that "a people that enslaves another forges its own chains".
We can now add that even Diaspora communities whose leaders support repression can find themselves expected to repress critical thought and obediently murmur "amen" to whatever brutality, bullying and balony is being perpetrated in their name.


JAMES THURBER, the great American humourist, wrote this little story at the time of the Cold War and McCarthy witch-hunts in the United States. Did we think those days were over?

As the 82-year old Holocaust survivor Henry Guterman find himself attacked by "representatives" of the community he has loyally served, and as 17-year old Israeli army refusenik and ant-Wall campaigner Matan Cohen lies in hospital after being hit in the eye with a rubber bullet, I hereby reproduce one of James Thurber's Fables for Our Time:

The Peacelike Mongoose

In cobra country a mongoose was born one day who didn't want to fight cobras or anything else. The word spread from mongoose to mongoose that there was a mongoose who didn't want to fight cobras. If he didn't want to fight anything else, it was his own business, but it was the duty of every mongoose to kill cobras or be killed by cobras.

'Why?' asked the peacelike mongoose, and the word went around that the strange new mongoose was not only pro-cobra and anti-mongoose but intellectually curious and against the ideals and traditions of mongoosism.

'He is crazy,' cried the young mongoose's father.
'He is sick,' said his mother.
'He is a coward,' shouted his brothers.
'He is a mongoosexual,' whispered his sisters.

Strangers who had never laid eyes on the peacelike mongoose remembered that they had seen him crawling on his stomach, or trying on cobra hoods, or plotting the violent overthrow of Mongoosia.

'I am trying to use reason and intelligence,' said the strange new mongoose.
'Reason is six-seventh of treason,' said one of his neighbours.
'Intelligence is what the enemy uses,' said another.

Finally the rumour spread that the mongoose had venom in his sting, like a cobra, and he was tried, convicted by a show of paws, and condemned to banishment.

Moral: Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust,
if the enemy doesn't get you, your own folks must!

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