Two weeks ago, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick intervened to overrule Westminster Council and approve the construction of a Holocaust Memorial next to the Houses of Parliament, a project first launched by then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2014. Backers of the project include some of the most influential members of the UK Jewish community, including Lord Feldman, Sir Mick Davis and Gerald Ronson . Those objecting, however, include not just the local council, but also Royal Parks (to which Victoria Gardens belong), the International Council on Monuments and Sites, the London Gardens Trust, Historic England, UNESCO, the Environment Agency, and fully 678 out of 714 testimonies to a public enquiry on the project.

The concerns raised by these opponents are various, including the risk of flooding by compromising natural defenses, traffic disruptions caused by the predicted 3 million visitors a year, potential for being targeted by terrorists, and the fact that it will cost the government £75 million at a time when public debt is already at record highs. The most widely-raised and shared objection, however, is that the memorial will involve concreting over more than 25% of one of London’s rare green spaces, and plonking on top something that looks like, well, this:

Some readers will at this point object that opinions about the ugliness of the proposed monument – described by Baroness Deech as a ‘gigantic toast rack’ – are purely subjective and one can, with equal justice, claim that the memorial will be a great work of art. Whether or not aesthetic subjectivism is valid in general, however, here it is quite irrelevant. The memorial may not have been purposely designed to be ugly, but it has most certainly been purposely designed not to be nice. Its goal, like other similar monuments around the world, is to induce feelings of numbness, sorrow, and gloom. In the words of David Adjaye, one of the chief architects behind the project, it has been specifically designed with the goal of ‘disrupting the pleasure of being in a park’.

The Westminster Holocaust Memorial question is, then, really very simple. Currently, Victoria Tower Gardens is a place where millions of Britons, as well as tourists from around the world, go year upon year to enjoy themselves while visiting the mother of all parliaments. The function of the proposed memorial is precisely to impose a note, indeed rather more than a note, of sadness in this place. Either those visiting the park should have their pleasure “disrupted” by a Holocaust memorial, or they should not.

Other arguments in favour of the proposed memorial are almost too specious to mention. It is supposed, somehow, to combat anti-semitism, though there is no plausible mechanism why it should do so, nor any empirical evidence from Holocaust memorials around the world that it will. It is supposed to offer a visible contrast to the Houses of Parliament by standing “as a physical reminder of what can happen when we take democracy for granted”, by virtue of some newly-invented rule whereby every monument must be ‘disrupted’ by its opposite. It is supposed to be a center of Holocaust education, but it adds nothing to the excellent exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, thirty minutes walk away. Indeed, the UK is, by any reasonable measure already well-stocked with institutions dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust, including the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in Notthinghamshire, the Holocaust Gallery in the Jewish Museum, the Wiener Library for the study of the Holocaust and genocide, the Hyde Park Holocaust Memorial, and the Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre in Huddersfield. 

What these arguments boil down to is that this memorial, which will completely change the landscape of the Houses of Parliament, and overwhelm all other statues and memorials in the park, has a very specific purpose. The Anglo-Jewish establishment wants it as symbolic affirmation of their own centrality to British life by placing Jewish collective trauma right in front of the cradle of democracy. 

Whether or not this desire is legitimate in and of itself, the overwhelming volume of opposition that the project received should have been the end of the matter. The project’s backers ought to have realised that they had missed the mark, gone back to the drawing board, and sought either a design more appropriate for the location, or a different site. Instead, they have pursued the route of intimidating opponents with casual allegations of anti-semitism, making it clear that the only way to get on with the Jewish community, in whose name they presume to speak, is to sacrifice a national treasure.

Every human being is liable to err, and the same goes for groups of people too. One particularly common fault is excessive self-regard and blindness to the perspective of others. This is why all of us need critical friends to bring us down to earth from time to time with a well-placed critical word. Unfortunately, the Anglo-Jewish establishment has manoeuvred itself into a psychological state where it is incapable of accepting criticism. While in principle they accept it might be legitimate to criticise individual Jews, they have decided that any criticism of Jews acting collectively to pursue a specifically Jewish cause is ipso facto anti-semitism, a crime for which the only acceptable penitence is permanent withdrawal from public life. It feels good to be immune from criticism, but it isn’t good for you. As a result of shutting out critique, the backers of the project have become tone-deaf, lost contact with reality, and are in the process of disfiguring a place that is part of the collective inheritance of all UK citizens because they cannot see themselves through the eyes of others. 

As British Jews, we have enjoyed a good deal for centuries, permitted to preserve – to the extent that we want to – a separate way of life, while no corridor of politics, business, or culture is closed to us. We have enough clout and influence to strong-arm dozens of politicians into publicly supporting the project as the price of proving their friendship. The question is not whether we can, however, but whether we should. Being able to intimidate politicians into acquiescing to unreasonable demands is no doubt tremendously satisfying, but the fact that people are scared to disagree with you in public is not the same thing as actually having friends.

Realistically, there is no chance of opposition from outside the Jewish community being successful. If Anglo-Jewry’s most visible contribution to the UK landscape is not to be an act of ostentatious vandalism on a world heritage site, figures from within the Jewish community must rise up to stop it. Imagine if, tomorrow, Jewish religious, business, and community leaders declare that while they are enormously appreciative of the gesture of good-will made by the UK government, they would rather work on a new proposal that does not impinge so grotesquely on the UK’s national heritage. It would be a kiddush Hashem.

63 thoughts on “A Plague On Two Houses

  1. Dear Lord Pickles,

    I hope you are well.

    Can you please help me? I am trying to get the name of VTG changed to EFG. It is important that we all move with the times, and it would be lovely to also get the monarchy involved. I am not suggesting that the Queen becomes a patron of the UKHLMC because it might be too controversial, but it would be nice to honour her. Now is surely the time, and if you think about it, Gerald Ronson also would be delighted to have her on board in some way.

    We can also come together – opponents and supporters of the UKHLMC.

    I attach an email to The Royal Parks but it would be great if you could support the campaign. I know the Duke of Edinburgh would have approved – I watched the BBC documentary last night.

    Kind regards
    Anthony

    Date: 23 September 2021 15:39:15 BST
    To: “stjames@royalparks.org.uk”
    Subject: Victoria Tower Gardens

    To whom it may concern:

    To celebrate the introduction of further security measures next to parliament, should Victoria Tower Gardens be renamed Elizabeth Fortress Gardens when building works for the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre commence?

    Will the Royal Parks support a campaign to change the nomenclature? I am sure The Queen would also agree to it, bearing in mind that Prince Phillip was a keen environmentalist and might have been concerned about the damage which will soon be inflicted on this important Royal Park.

    Yours faithfully,

    Anthony Posner

    Like

  2. LETTER TO BARONESS ROS ALTMANN (24/9/2021)

    Dear Ros,

    I hope you are well. I know you are very busy with advising on pensions but the holocaust memorial is another of your concerns which must not be neglected. You are, after all, a Conservative peer and that is a privileged position, but it does also include important responsibilities and you should not avoid them.

    https://jewishnews.timesofisrael.com/dozens-of-holocaust-survivors-gather-for-life-affirming-exhibition/

    You will note that many holocaust survivors recently attended an event at the IWM. However,
    you have said that for you “the holocaust is not about war” and it is crucial that a new holocaust exhibit is created at VTG to create a totally different narrative, which will emphasise the inherent “democratic” aspects of the holocaust. I do wonder what history books you have read and it is possible that economics really is your forte? So far you haven’t retracted any of your opinions about Nazi Germany and the holocaust so the public record has not been corrected.

    Some people who listened to you on Newsnight might wonder whether the holocaust survivors were wise to attend the event at the IWM . Perhaps they were misled? If so, please take the matter up with the HET and the Board of Deputies and the holocaust memorial foundation etc.

    I would appreciate it if you could kindly let me know your views, because you do express your opinions in the House of Lords and you are accountable to the UK public. After all, we do live in a democracy!

    Kind regards
    Anthony

    Like

  3. Dear Lord Pickles,

    This is v.interesting :

    “We have to remember it was only recently the Foreign Secretary apologised for the 1939 White Paper which restricted the number of Jewish migrants to Palestine.” ( LEP)

    https://www.thejc.com/news/uk/holocaust-memorial-learning-centre-parliament-eric-pickles-hits-back-royal-parks-1.480003

    I studied this at university under the guidance of Lionel Kochan – he was an old school Jewish scholar and not like the dime a dozen that you now see at holocaust conferences.

    My opinion on the 1939 White Paper, is that the Palestinians would have gone even more meshuggah if the British Govt had let in more Jewish refugees. LEP, we do have to be careful about trying to revisit complex issues which happened before WW2. My view as an English Jew is that we shouldn’t get too clever about what the British govt did or didn’t do. I’m being deadly serious because I can tell you one thing- it won’t be doing Anglo Jewry any favours. I know that you are a true friend of Jews and Israel and I have a great deal of respect for you, so please urge some caution when criticising the British govt.

    Best,
    AMP

    Like

  4. Dear Lord Pickles,

    I hope you are well.

    Can you please help me? I am trying to get the name of VTG changed to EFG. It is important that we all move with the times, and it would be lovely to also get the monarchy involved. I am not suggesting that the Queen becomes a patron of the UKHLMC because it might be too controversial, but it would be nice to honour her. Now is surely the time, and if you think about it, Gerald Ronson also would be delighted to have her on board in some way.

    We can also come together – opponents and supporters of the UKHLMC.

    I attach an email to The Royal Parks but it would be great if you could support the campaign. I know the Duke of Edinburgh would have approved – I watched the BBC documentary last night.

    Kind regards
    Anthony

    Begin forwarded message:

    From: Anthony Posner
    Date: 23 September 2021 15:39:15
    To: “stjames@royalparks.org.uk”
    Subject: Victoria Tower Gardens

    To whom it may concern:

    To celebrate the introduction of further security measures next to parliament, should Victoria Tower Gardens be renamed Elizabeth Fortress Gardens when building works for the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre commence?

    Will the Royal Parks support a campaign to change the nomenclature? I am sure The Queen would also agree to it, bearing in mind that Prince Phillip was a keen environmentalist and might have been concerned about the damage which will soon be inflicted on this important Royal Park.

    Yours faithfully,

    Anthony Posner

    Like

  5. Paul Foot although a Marxist was a highly respected journalist…

    https://www.marxists.org/archive/foot-paul/1990/11/corruption.htm

    “This was surprising because perhaps the biggest crook of them all was Gerald Ronson. He made his fortune not so much by ‘daring’ bids but by gambling on the stock exchange. His greatest gamble was in 1986 when his friend, the super-swindler Sir Jack Lyons, asked him to buy some shares in Guinness to boost the share price in the firm’s takeover of Distillers. Ronson obliged with a cool £25 million. He lost not a penny on this investment of course, but as a reward for stumping up so much at an awkward time Guinness slipped him a personal donation of £7 million.”

    Like

  6. Transparency International’s Steve Goodrich said: “Wealthy donors securing access to government ministers has continued to be a worrying practice throughout a series of governments over the years. Such a transactional approach to rewarding donors can easily give rise to the perception of some form of quid pro quo.”

    A number of senior Conservative donors have received honours including knighthoods and peerages. In September, Tory treasurer Ehud Sheleg received a knighthood, as did outgoing Tory treasurer Mick Davis. Sheleg, an art dealer, has given the party more than £3 million.

    https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/dark-money-investigations/revealed-the-elite-dining-club-behind-130m-donations-to-the-tories/

    Like

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