Exploiting Wallenberg

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On 12th September the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence Alan Shatter(Fine Gael) spoke at the opening of a conference in Dublin called Man Amidst Inhumanity. This marked the centenary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish architect and businessman who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War II and was subsequently imprisoned and presumably murdered by the Soviet government.

Wallenberg was indeed a hero, and it is far from my purpose to suggest that his name was other than fittingly commemorated by this conference. As Minister Shatter said, “[f]or every person who takes the equal dignity of human beings seriously, the life of Raoul Wallenberg has a distinct moral and ethical significance.” I believe, however, that Alan Shatter is not such a person, and hence was not a fitting speaker to do justice to Wallenberg’s memory.

Shatter began by outlining the salient facts concerning Wallenberg’s final years. In 1944 he was appointed Secretary at the Swedish Legation in Budapest where he saved some 20,000 Jews by devising a Swedish passport that “render[ed] the holder immune to deportation… With American money, he rented some 30 buildings. He designated them ‘extraterritorial buildings’ under a Swedish flag to give their residents safe houses. He placed some 35,000 Jews in these buildings.”

After the war Wallenberg “disappeared into the Soviet prison system.” Shatter has no doubt that “what the Soviets did to him was because of what he did and proposed to do for Hungarian Jews”, although he does not clarify the rationale behind such a causal link.

Researchers have tended to explain Wallenberg’s arrest on the grounds that he was either a US spy, or the Soviets suspected him of being one. There are also other theories about his undocumented death, including the tantalising possibility that he lived on for several decades.

Of course none of these hypotheses in any way detracts from Wallenberg’s stature, but it is surely extraordinary that Shatter chooses not to mention them.

Shatter goes on to conclude that “[t]he value of today’s conference is that it contributes to ensuring that the act of memory… actively helps to keep the truth of the Shoah ready at hand in our cultural memory.” To support this he quotes Elie Wiesel: “Whatever you do, remember the moral dimension. If you study engineering or architecture or the arts or music, literature, whatever you do in your life, remember always that there must be a moral dimension.”

Unfortunately, Wiesel notoriously believes that “the moral dimension” can and must be forgotten in the case of Israel. According to the political commentator M. J. Rosenberg, former policy director at the Israel Policy Forum, Wiesel “is a great humanitarian, except when it comes to Palestinians (to whom he is indifferent).”

Rosenberg continues:

“in 1982, while hundreds of thousands of Israelis were in the streets demonstrating against the government’s horrific conduct of the Lebanon war, Wiesel said: ‘I support Israel – period. I identify with Israel – period. I never attack, never criticize Israel when I am not in Israel.’… In other words, he is a humanitarian except in situations where his own tribe is perpetrating cruelty. But the test for any of us is not our empathy to our own, but our empathy to the other — especially when ‘our own’ is perpetrating the injustice.”

A selective morality is no morality. By quoting Wiesel as his authority, Shatter simultaneously identifies with such selectiveness and robs his two dozen deployments of the adjective “moral” of all meaning.

Shatter goes on to assert that “we cannot find a meaning in the Shoah.” But this contradicts his conviction – surely incontrovertible – that we must “keep the truth of the Shoah ready at hand in our cultural memory.” Why should we do this if there is nothing to learn from it? He also repeats the familiar trope that “what happened was a unique historical event” and refers to the Shoah’s “singularity”. But of what kind of historical catastrophe can such an assertion not be made? Was the atomic cataclysm of Hiroshima and Nagasaki not “a unique historical event”?

Such a question is not intended to relativise or trivialise the enormity or singularity of the Holocaust, nor to “compare” it with other catastrophes on the basis of some indecent calculus of atrocity. Every historical catastrophe is unique but also has something in common with others; it is by analysing these differences and similarities that we attempt to arrive at an understanding the purpose of which is to prevent the recurrence of such horrors.

Shatter refers to the French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson and to one of his books “for which Noam Chomsky wrote an introduction”. Shatter could have chosen someone like David Irving, far better-known in these islands, but clearly opted for Faurisson precisely so that he could include the allegation against Chomsky.

However, the allegation is false. According to Wikipedia, “the Chomsky piece was not written to be used as an introduction, although Chomsky had authorized its use to defend Faurisson in a different context. Chomsky’s piece was a general defense of freedom of speech, including Faurisson’s… Noting that he had described the Holocaust as ‘the most fantastic outburst of collective insanity in human history’, Chomsky answered that his views were ‘diametrically opposed’ to those of Faurisson on the subject.”

Why, then, does Minister Shatter repeat this false allegation in such lapidary form? Because Chomsky, a Jew from a liberal Zionist background, has long been one of Israel’s fiercest and most cogent critics and has been famously dismissive of Elie Wiesel and his “state-worship”. Shatter smears him by association, much as he has sought to smear Irish human rights campaigners by cynically linking them with Bin Laden. These are not the tactics of one who believes that “there must be a moral dimension” to his words and actions, at least not when unconditional support of Israel is involved.

More than half way through his speech, Shatter’s language shifts without transition from “Jews” to “Israel”, as if both terms were synonymous. Having told us that “the Nazis and their collaborators were able to use the fires of the Shoah to turn European Jewish civilisation to smoke and ash”, he adds that “Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened a nuclear holocaust against Israel” and “has promised to use nuclear missiles to turn Israel to smoke and ash” and “to create the conditions and weapons for a further genocide against the Jewish people…” (who are once again equated, whether they wish it or not, with the state of Israel).

This conflation of the Nazis with the Islamic Republic surely both relativises and instrumentalises the Shoah. Moreover each of these assertions is an outright falsehood based on the deliberate mistranslation of a speech in which Ahmadinejad quoted Ayatollah Khomeini’s assertion that Zionism – a political ideology – would “vanish from the page of time”. Given that Ahmadinejad has consistently denied that Iran possesses or intends to possess nuclear weapons, the effrontery of Shatter’s embroidery of the standard manipulation of this mistranslation is breathtaking.

Even Shatter does not imply that Ahmedinejad would first of all turn his supposed anti-Semitic fervour on Iran’s Jews, the largest such community in the Middle East outside of Israel. Perhaps Shatter quite simply doesn’t take them into account, because they have consistently spurned Israel’s attempts to lure them to that country.

“It is morally (sic) absurd that Ahmadinejad still rules Iran,” the Minister tells us, and the implication is clear: “the international community could have impeded the Shoah had it acted in time”, so it must now impede Ahmadinejad’s supposedly genocidal plans by attacking Iran (morally, of course) and bringing him down, just as Hitler was brought down.

At a time when Islamophobia has replaced anti-Semitism as the dominant form of (pseudo-)racial hatred in Western societies, Shatter has enlisted the memory of Raoul Wallenberg to justify attacking Iran, thus potentially inciting hostility against Muslims everywhere. The only possible motivation for such an attack is to guarantee the uncontested hegemony in the Middle East of the nuclear-armed and expansionist Jewish state.

We know that Minister Shatter has no interest in the victims of that state, despite having observed for himself – and reputedly been shocked by – the terrible conditions in Gaza in the wake of Israel’s murderous Operation Cast Lead in 2009, and having been stunned into expressing disapproval of Israel’s illegal siege of Gaza after Israeli commandos murdered nine Turkish peace activists aboard the Mavi Marmara.the following year.

This brief concession to principle didn’t survive Shatter’s accession to ministerial rank, when one of his first acts was to hire the fanatical Zionist and Islamophobe Tom Cooney as one of his special advisors. Shatter professed himself unable to see the wisdom of the June 2011 Flotilla to Gaza which he condemned as a superfluous “political protest”, although this protest was directed against the same siege that he had himself reluctantly condemned. Together with his colleague, Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore (Labour), he ostentatiously attended the opening of an Israeli government-sponsored film festival in Dublin’s Temple Bar at which peacefully protesting activists were kettled and manhandled by police (who are ultimately answerable to Shatter, as Minister for Justice). Finally, there was that Bin Laden press release, in which Shatter spread disinformation about the cancellation of the folk group Dervish’s Israel tour, mendaciously accusing pro-Palestinian activists of on-line bullying.

Just as Alan Shatter is willing to exploit Wallenberg’s memory, to instrumentalise the Shoah and to bend the truth in order to make a case for attacking Iran in the supposed interests of the Israeli rogue state, he is also prepared to abuse his position as one of the most powerful ministers in the Irish government in order to defame and victimise Irish citizens exercising their democratic right to protest against injustice – once again, in the interests of that same rogue state.

It is not unusual for a Defence Minister to be steeped in nationalism, but for the “nation” in question to be a foreign state, and a rogue state at that, must be unprecedented. It should be remembered that Raoul Wallenberg’s activism entailed a suspension of nationalism – Hungarian Jews were provided with passports from neutral Sweden, and housed in “’extraterritorial buildings’ under a Swedish flag”. Shatter, together with his colleague Eamon Gilmore, wishes to harness Ireland’s once neutral foreign policy to unconditional support for Israel, a state embodying the most extreme and atavistic form of tribal nationalism.

During the Shoah, Shatter tells us, “the Irish government of the day sat on its hands.” No doubt future commentators will observe that the present Irish government is sitting on its hands while the Palestinians are dispossessed and persecuted. This is not to compare present circumstances with the Shoah, but to observe that the moral cowardice of government has not evolved.

Alan Shatter is right to tell us that “[w]e must also honour our fundamental moral obligation to protect our common humanity against inhumanity”, but he does not mean it, because he excepts the Palestinians from such protection.

Alan Shatter is right to tell us that “we must value our fundamental rights and freedoms,…and constantly renew the democratic attitude of equal respect for all people”, but he does not mean it, because he excepts the Palestinians from such respect.

Alan Shatter was the wrong person to commemorate Raoul Wallenberg, and he is the wrong person to be minister for Justice, Equality and Defence in the government of this country.

Raymond Deane is a composer and political activist. He blogs at raymondmdeane.blogspot.com/

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