It is clear to me that Roger Hallam, co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, wasn’t saying that the Nazi perpetrated slaughter of millions of Jews was okay at all. He was painting a stark warning for us not to ignore other genocides, past and present. It was only a tactical, not a factual, error on his part. The real problem here isn’t the speaker or message, but people being too willing to pound on an impolitic statement to bloody up and obscure the truth. The problem is both embarrassed co-consipirators as well as outright climate and holocaust deniers gleefully working to separate and weaken us. We, as a movement for peace and justice, need to be smarter than that. Don’t confuse shocking words with shocking crimes.
I agree with Hallam, and I personally resonate with the gist of his apologies. “I am sorry for the crass words that I used,” Halam said, adding that his intention had been “the exact opposite of ‘downplaying the Holocaust.’…I realize that in the interview I got sidetracked into an unnecessary debate about where the Holocaust sits in terms of horrific genocides.” I’ve been there! Getting drawn into holocaust comparisons is unwise because it usually backfires. Still, it shouldn’t get us excommunicated from our social movements.
I call this tendency to quickly turn on ourselves, “movement cannibalism” (#MovementCannibalism). Given his quick clarifications and apologies, Extinction Rebellion chapters and leadership should help us get back on track by working with him and his efforts to clarify his meaning instead of playing into the hands of our opponents and leading us further apart.
We very much need to hear what Hallam was saying. Genocides are happening now, and we must not make like any is more unspeakable than the others, even ones involving one’s personal loss. Hallam’s not the destructive one, and we must not allow such statements to be twisted into some damning liability. He was right that the scale is not so unique, and we need to deal with that. I don’t see much difference between 1 million and 6 million or even 20 million. Do you? We must not be unwitting fools in wrongheaded efforts to foment movement cannibalism by real Nazis and white nationalists and corporate greedheads. As I said, we have to be smarter than that.
Stopping the slaughter of Amazon’s indigenous people in Bolivia and Brazil shouldn’t require shocking comparisons to awaken people to stop the genocidal acts that are being committed currently, but efforts need to continue and grow as the crimes continue. Also, Hallam used words and should be allowed more leeway than people who using guns and war budgets.
In the Guardian article about Hallam’s comments, the German foreign minister is quoted as saying, “To want to murder and exterminate Jewish women and men is uniquely inhumane. We must always be aware of that so we can be certain: never again!” I strongly disagree. His statement could instill a twisted pride in being “uniquely” genocidal. Sadly, it wasn’t as unique as we should hope. THAT genocidal comparison was far worse than Hallam’s.
Or consider this quote from the Times piece: “Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Bild it was not enough that Extinction Rebellion had distanced itself from Mr. Hallam. The movement must make it clear “whether it wants to tolerate such views in its ranks,” he said. “As keen as they criticize climate change deniers,” he said, “they should also do it with Holocaust relativizers.” If Schuster sees himself as part of climate change resistance or someone opposed to any genocide anywhere, then he is engaging in unbridled movement cannibalism and it weakens us. Do you think I’m a “holocaust relativizer”? I think the far worse problem are Holocaust singularizers whether motivated psychic wounds or dishonesty. I am not speaking against memorializing the specific murder of the 6 million Jews. I wish it really were one of a kind.
I was taught about the Warsaw Ghetto all the time as a child. How can I not see the walls surrounding Bethlehem and Gaza as anything other than an affront to the memories of all the Jews lost. By what right, outrage and dismissal of such a comparison? Do the means of imprisonment and mass murder make a crime against humanity fundamentally more or less egregious or shocking? I wanted to say that Ashkenazi Jews don’t own “concentration camps” or genocide, but I look at Gaza, and I fear I am wrong. We shouldn’t act like our victimization is unique, or absurdly that it precludes even the suggestion that we may be acting as victimizer.
Look at these threatening, denigrating posters–produced by the David Horowitz Foundation and promoted by Canary Mission and the Lawfare Project to attack activists and faculty and students at San Francisco State University. How can they not provoke comparison to antisemitic, Nazi propaganda of the 1930’s?
It shouldn’t take knowing any of these people or groups personally to see through the dishonesty of this campaign and the wrongness of treating any of these vile, propagandistic charges with anything other than contempt.
Hallam’s interview and its fallout make me ironically feel more sad and connected to my World War II familial trauma. As I understand it now, telegrams my paternal grandparents received in the United States about this or that death/murder back in Tlumach (which was southeast of Lvov on the Dniester River) really took a long-term toll on Nanny’s mental health. In 2016, my sister Chava and I visited a cemetery outside of Tel Aviv where a great-uncle of our is buried. There are also rows of monuments in memory of “shtetls” and other communities that were wiped out in The Shoah. We found the one erected in memory of Tlumacz, where my father’s family was from. Shpund and Haber, my two paternal family names both had memorial plaques to kiss and pay tribute to.
I don’t want a Palestinian companion cemetery to grow to such a size, and so I fight being “mesmerized by uncertainty” as I plan to go on another trip with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence.
Patreon Me Some Activist Support for my trip
Well, my appeal in the last Missive garnered two donations! Not very effective fundraising, but thank you much, my friends. You know who you are! I know more of you would like to support my return trip with the Center for Jewish Nonviolence. I also know that now Giving Tuesday has passed, and it’s the holiday season. There are many places to put our resources. I’m stretching myself as we all are. Down the road, I may need more help in general. This old slogan has never been more true: “Better active today, than radioactive tomorrow!”
I have set up a Patreon account, but it seems more involve than I need at present. Find me there if you can, or let me know how to use it better. I don’t like Paypal, but I am set up with them. My email address should be all you need to send me money (with a brief note, perhaps): firstname.lastname@example.org . I am also connected with Zelle through US Bank (forgive me) if you want to send me some money that way. Of course a check or non-monetary word or two of encouragement counts for a lot. Let me know if you need my mailing address.
We all need to do something, and this is my part, going there in visible solidarity, staying connected to communities so my visit is less of a one-off and more sustained. As you know, I think Jews need to step up, just as white folks can’t just be “not racist” and men can’t just be “not sexist pigs or rapists,” Jews need to stand up for Palestinians, and for their political and human rights.
Eamon by the Bay: November, 2019
Eamon and Lacy joined my sister Chava and her daughter Shai in the Bay Area and stayed at my mom’s place in mid-November. What a glorious second visit for Eamon. Such a charmer, a real pleasant being, this little one. And more Eamon real soon. They turn one on December 8, and I’m there!