Harriet Sherwood cynically exploits a Holocaust survivor on Yom HaShoah to criticize Israel

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel’s day of commemoration for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust as a result of actions carried out by Nazi Germany.

At 10 AM sirens sounded throughout Israel for two minutes. During this time, as every year on this day, people ceased from action and stood at attention; cars stopped; and most of the country came to a standstill as people payed silent tribute to the dead.

On Yom HaShoah ceremonies and services are held throughout the country.

On Erev Yom HaShoah and the day itself, public entertainment venues are closed, and Israeli TV airs Holocaust documentaries, Holocaust-related talk shows, and low-key songs are played on the radio. Flags on public buildings are flown at half mast.

Israel is home to just under 200,000 Holocaust survivors.

The Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood decided not focus on one of the many heroic tales of survival against impossible odds, or the scars still carried by survivors’ children and grandchildren, those who are still haunted by stories of their parent’s and grandparent’s suffering, relayed by fading memories – a population still able to provide first hand accounts of their encounters with human evil.

Rather, Sherwood, published “Holocaust survivors struggling to make ends meet in Israel“, which is hard to surpass in the manipulation of genuine suffering in the service of agenda driven journalism.

Sherwood opens:

Despite the horrors of a childhood in the shadow of the Holocaust, Ros Dayan survived to build a life she could be proud of in the new Jewish state of Israel.

She trained as a nurse, she sang in a choir that toured the world. She learnt Hebrew, though she never lost her central European accent. She paid her taxes and eventually bought the tiny house in Jaffa that she had rented at a subsidised rate for years. She even learned to live with the pain of three broken vertebrae, the result of an assault by a Nazi soldier.

But, now, in the last years of her life, Ros is ashamed. One of the 198,000 Holocaust survivors still alive in Israel, she is also one of the growing proportion who cannot make ends meet, who struggle with insufficient funds on a daily basis. Wiping a single tear with a shaking hand, she says: “For the first time, I don’t have enough money for food or clothes. I used to have pride, now I am ashamed.”

According to studies, around a quarter of Holocaust survivors in Israel live below the poverty line, struggling to pay for food, heating, housing, medication and care.

But the most manipulative passage is here, where she finds her desired quote:

“A lot of survivors face big medical bills, and life in Israel is very expensive generally,” says Deborah Garel of the Jaffa Institute, which distributes bi-monthly food parcels to Holocaust survivors. “Holocaust survivors going hungry in Israel? This is not right. After being hungry in the ghetto, they shouldn’t be hungry in the Jewish state.”

Whatever the real economic hardships faced by Holocaust survivors in Israel (and even one survivor without enough to eat is, of course, one too many), to evoke hunger in Nazi era ghettos, where the mortality rate due to malnutrition and disease among babies and infants, for instance, was 100 percent, in the context of difficulties survivors face paying for food in the Jewish state is as callous as it is cynical.

(As a side note, the percentage of survivors cited by Sherwood as living below the poverty line 25%, though of course unacceptable, is exactly proportionate with the general population.)

Finally, In the penultimate paragraph, Sherwood finds one last quote to polish off her narrative.

“I love this country, but I don’t feel Jewish here. I came here to feel Jewish. Every Holocaust day I’m sad for what we lost, and I’m sad I didn’t end up in a country that loves me,” [Ros] says.

Whatever the very real economic problems of survivors like Ros, it beggars the imagination that Sherwood couldn’t have avoided vilifying the Jewish state on such a solemn day.

Further, to provide a bit of context to the British-Israeli relationship, it should be noted that had a sovereign Jewish state been created prior the Holocaust the number of Jews killed would have been dramatically fewer, and indeed the British White Paper in 1939, a document influenced in large measure by Arab demands, dramatically limited the number of Jews allowed to immigrate into Palestine (75,000 over the following five years).

So, the gates of Palestine largely remained closed duration of the war, stranding hundreds of thousands of Jews in Europe, many of whom became victims of Hitler’s Final Solution.

The fact is that Israel has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors, and nearly a million Jews expelled from Arab lands, since the end of WWII, and offered them citizenship, economic assistance, and didn’t let them languish in refugee camps.

But, most importantly, Israel provided these stateless, homeless Jews a safe haven in the first sovereign Jewish polity in over 2000 years – a historically persecuted minority finally no longer at the mercy of the goodwill, whims and wishes of “enlightened” non-Jewish rulers. 

It is not at all surprising that a Guardian reporter like Sherwood can always find someone to serve a desired narrative of Israeli villainy, even in the context of the Jewish state’s response to the Shoah.  But, the ubiquitous nature of such tendentious journalism doesn’t render it any less irresponsible or offensive.  

But perhaps, just perhaps, her sensitive soul could have been moved (just this one time) to recount just one of the many stories (among the remaining survivors) of those Jewish men, women and children who risked everything to escape the fires ready to consume them in Europe to reach the shores of their promised land.

Having lost much if not all of their family, they had finally arrived in Eretz Y’srael. They had finally reached freedom.

Life in the modern Jewish state is, of course, not perfect, but it is not unreasonable to expect Harriet Sherwood to, at least on this one day, this supremely solemn occasion, display just a modicum of respect, a bit of self-restraint, and avoid such characteristic ideologically driven caricatures of the nation she’s covering. 

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