Human Rights groups, Jews and Nazism

1 Oct 2009 by CST

The Amnesty International UK blog has another depressing example of the difference between Jewish perceptions of antisemitism, and the manner in which the subject is treated by NGOs.

Appearing on the Amnesty blog under the pseudonym, Niluccio, the post criticised the responses of both Hamas and Israel to the recent United Nations Human Rights Council report authored by Judge Richard Goldstone. Niluccio then wrote about the controversy regarding Human Rights Watch (HRW) investigator Marc Garlasco, who had been revealed by pro-Israel groups to be a collector of Nazi World War 2 memorabilia. It appears from clicking on the name Niluccio, that it is a pseudonym openly used by Neil Durkin, who is described on the blog as an Amnesty UK press officer.

As previously noted by CST blog, HRW’s initial reaction to the Garlasco revelations had failed to acknowledge the genuine concern and hurt that most Jews would naturally feel at Garlasco’s unusual hobby. (To say nothing of how completely inappropriate it is for any employee of a human rights body to be flirting with Nazism: in any manner whatsoever.)

This was not, however, what grabbed Durkin's attention. Rather, Durkin alleged that “Israel has a nasty habit of playing the man not the ball when it comes to fending off critics”. Durkin then did precisely that: playing the Israeli man rather than the Nazi-themed ball that had been bouncing around at Human Rights Watch. He asked facetiously

“After HRW, is Amnesty International next? Are we set to be outed as a hotbed of Holocaust-deniers? Will key Amnesty researchers be unmasked, shown to be furtive collectors of David Irving DVDs? What about Neil Durkin? Didn’t he once go to an “Oi” skinhead gig in the early 80s where the audience was wall-to-wall bovver boys all in thrall to The Cockney Rejects? (Yes, but I can explain…)”.

Having had a giggle on the subject of Holocaust denial, Durkin stated

“Rather than sinking to such scurillity, Israel ought to confront these serious [United Nations] criticisms head-on…The same goes for the responsibility-evading Hamas side…If either Israel or Hamas conspicuously fail in this lawful and urgently necessary task, the UN suggests this would then rightfully be a matter for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.”

After such seriousness, Durkin could not resist concluding with another joke about Nazism: this time referencing Luis Moreno-Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the aforementioned International Criminal Court

“If it ever comes to that, stand by for the accusation that Luis Moreno-Ocampo has a fetishistic interest in the leather boots worn by members of Himmler’s Waffen-SS units.”

So, all very funny then, this snigger-snigger Nazi uniform and Holocaust denial stuff.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have assumed the role of global guardians and promoters of human rights. Their cause is anchored upon the horrors of Nazism, as exemplified by the Holocaust; and their perceptions and definitions of human rights are a direct response to the depravity of those dreadful times. This brings a heavy moral responsibility that has been brought into harsh focus by their respective reactions to the Garlasco controversy.   

We fully appreciate that it is in the nature of blog articles to be more chatty, humorous and casual than the sober statements and reports that are formally presented on behalf of organisations, and there is no suggestion that Durkin is anything other than an entirely genuine and committed human rights activist: but despite all that, it remains hard to overcome the disconcerting suspicion that Durkin’s playful sneers reflect Amnesty’s instinctive, basic reaction to the Garlasco controversy. It is a reaction that diminishes the right of Jews (including Israeli Jews) to be upset about antisemitism, Nazism and related topics, and can inadvertently facilitate the normalisation (and therefore growth) of these phenomena.

For the overwhelming majority of Jews, the imagery and memory of Nazism is simply repugnant: whether it is swastikas daubed on synagogues; the Iron Cross on Marc Garlasco’s sweatshirt; or jokes about Waffen-SS boots and David Irving books on an official Amnesty blog. The staff of Amnesty or HRW may be more concerned with Israel than they are with Jewish attitudes to Nazism, but they should be in no doubt that this Jewish reaction is not "scurillity", but is visceral, authentic and laden with meaning: whether it occurs in Israel, Britain, Poland or wherever. Indeed, when the staff of such NGOs make fun of these concerns, or savage them as pro-Israel camouflage, they risk a betrayal of not only Jews, but also of the very principles upon which modern human rights are founded.

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Chair of Governors, King David High School, Manchester