Corbyn called for Holocaust Memorial Day to be renamed ‘Genocide Memorial Day’

Holocaust Educational Trust accuses Labour chief of ‘denial and distortion’ after report reveals 2011 parliamentary motion to change name to reflect that ‘every life is of value’

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking after he retained his parliamentary seat in Islington north London, June 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)
Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking after he retained his parliamentary seat in Islington north London, June 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the British Labour Party, which is embroiled in a series of anti-Semitism scandals, in the past supported a parliamentary motion to rename the country’s Holocaust Memorial Day.

In 2011, Corbyn was among a group of predominantly Labour politicians who proposed changing the name to “Genocide Memorial Day – Never Again For Anyone,” to reflect that “Nazism targeted not only Jewish [people],” Politics Home reported Wednesday.

Writing that “every life is of value,” the 23 MPs — among them a single member of the ruling Conservative Party, Peter Bottomley — filed their motion on January 27, 2011, UK Holocaust Memorial Day, which is marked on the same day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The British memorial day officially includes a commitment to remember all the victims of Nazi persecution as well as later genocides — in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.

The Corbyn-supported motion called on the government to make the name change to acknowledge “that disabled people were the first victims of Nazi mass murder, that working class activists and trade unionists, many of whom were Jewish, were the first to be sent to concentration camps, and that Nazism targeted not only Jewish but also Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, lesbian, gay and bisexual people and others they deemed undesirables.”

The motion “therefore supports the call for international awareness of all communities and countries who have suffered and resisted mass extermination by renaming Holocaust Memorial Day as Genocide Memorial Day – Never Again For Anyone.”

Karen Pollock, chief executive of Holocaust Education Trust (courtesy)

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the UK’s Holocaust Educational Trust, reacted by accusing Corbyn of “denial and distortion.”

“Holocaust Memorial Day already rightly includes all victims of the Nazis and subsequent genocides,” she wrote on Twitter. “But the Holocaust was a specific crime, with anti-Semitism at its core. Any attempt to remove that specificity is a form of denial and distortion.”

In a statement, Pollock added that “this Parliamentary motion and the campaign it supported appear to be politically motivated and attempts to undermine a national day of remembrance that involves communities and educators of all backgrounds.”

She called on Corbyn and the rest of the signatories “to explain why they thought it was worth their support.”

A Labour spokesperson was quoted as responding that “this was a cross-party initiative, jointly sponsored by a senior Conservative MP, to emphasize the already broader character of Holocaust Memorial Day. It is not our policy to seek a name change for this important commemoration.”

Illustrative: People hold up placards and Union flags as they gather for a demonstration organized by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism outside the head office of the British opposition Labour Party in central London on April 8, 2018. (AFP/Tolga Akmen)

Labour under Corbyn, a hard-left politician who has called Hezbollah and Hamas his “friends” and who is fighting accusations of harboring anti-Semitic sentiments, has come under intense scrutiny over anti-Semitic rhetoric by party members. In 2016, an inter-parliamentary committee accused Labour of creating a “safe space for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people.”

A series of scandals and controversies have ensnared the party, culminating with its recently released policy on anti-Semitism which has been condemned — including by members of the party – for omitting Israel-related definitions that have become standard elsewhere and for not embracing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism.

On Wednesday, Corbyn apologized for “concerns and anxiety” caused by an event he hosted at the House of Commons in 2010 in which a Holocaust survivor compared Israel to the Nazis over its actions in the Gaza Strip.

“In the past, in pursuit of justice for the Palestinian people and peace in Israel/Palestine, I have on occasion appeared on platforms with people whose views I completely reject,” Corbyn said in a statement quoted by British media.

“The main speaker at this Holocaust Memorial Day meeting was a Jewish Auschwitz survivor,” he added. “Views were expressed at the meeting which I do not accept or condone.

“I apologize for the concerns and anxiety that this has caused.”

Corbyn has maintained that Labour will not tolerate racist rhetoric by its members. Dozens were kicked out over anti-Semitic statements. However, the party has kept on many Labour members whom Jewish community leaders said engaged in anti-Semitic hate speech.

JTA and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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