(JNS) The unspeakable performance by Roger Waters in Berlin last week crossed a number of new red lines, even for him.
The former Pink Floyd guitarist has long been infamous for his venomous attacks on Israel and antisemitic remarks. Few, though, could ever have imagined that he would be allowed to stage the obscene performance he put on at Berlin’s Mercedes-Benz arena.
As described on the German website Bell Tower, Waters displayed the names of people supposedly killed because of their identity. In an odious comparison, Anne Frank, who was indeed murdered because she was a Jew, was displayed as equivalent to Shireen Abu Akleh, the Al Jazeera journalist who was shot dead while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian Arab gunmen in Jenin.
Dressed in a Waffen SS uniform under fascist-style banners hanging from the roof, Waters pretended to fire on the audience with a dummy rifle. When he exchanged this for a keffiyeh in an unsubtle reference to Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, the giant LED screen flashed up: “F*** bombing people in their homes. F*** the occupation. You can’t have occupation and human rights.”
In a speech bubble displayed on that screen, a fragment of dialogue channeled Jewish conspiracy theory by suggesting that the world was controlled by a cabal of wealthy individuals who were secretly pulling all the strings.
This diabolical spectacle of Jew-hatred received a standing ovation from the audience. And this happened in Berlin, the very epicenter of the Shoah.
Many who visit Berlin speak about the “impressive” or “moving” Holocaust memorial there. The fact that Waters could nevertheless stage this obscenity in that very city shows how thinking has become badly skewed.
There is now an unprecedented amount of Holocaust memorializing and education in the West. Yet the Shoah is nevertheless routinely misappropriated, trivialized and demeaned.
Words like “Nazi,” “fascism” and “holocaust” are now used to describe a dizzying range of presumed social ills. Meanwhile, verbal and physical attacks on Jews are becoming ever more frequent and brazen.
There are several reasons for this frightening trend. But Holocaust memorializing has itself played an unwitting part.
The demonization of the Jews is, of course, the never-ending hatred, as is the corresponding impulse to deny Jewish suffering. At the core of the form it takes today lies moral relativism—the replacement of objective truth by personal opinion, feelings and emotion. Relativism means no one’s values or status can be higher or lower than anyone else’s.
There can be no hierarchy of suffering. So Jews can never be allowed to make the justifiable claim that the Jewish people are unique, or that antisemitism is unique, or that the Nazi genocide of the Jews was unique.
Of course, this so-called equal status merely produces an inverted hierarchy in which good and bad, truth and lies, victim and victimizer are reversed.
That’s one reason why, in the minds of progressives for whom relativism is a kind of faith, Israel is an oppressor and its Palestinian Arab attackers are its victims.
That’s why such progressives can’t acknowledge that the fate of Israeli victims of Palestinian Arab terrorism is in a different moral universe from the fate of the Palestinian Arabs.
That’s why CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour misrepresented the point-blank murder of Lucy Dee and her daughters by Palestinian Arab terrorists in the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria as a “shootout”; and why Amanpour’s belated and lame attempt at an apology, altering “shootout” to the scarcely less distorted “shooting,” merely compounded the offense.
It’s why Waters so disgustingly equated Anne Frank with Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed not because she was a Palestinian-American but because she had put herself in harm’s way by standing in the middle of a fire-fight.
And unfortunately, this most immoral equivalence has now become embedded into much Holocaust education and memorializing, which equate the genocide of the Jews with “other genocides.”
In his book The End of the Holocaust, Alvin Rosenfeld observed that the Anne Frank story has been reframed to articulate the need to overcome racism and homophobia, prevent mass murder and promote tolerance and kindness.
Jews like Anne Frank, however, were wiped out not because of a lack of tolerance or kindness or through prejudice but because of a derangement beyond comprehension directed at the Jewish people.
In Mosaic in 2016, Edward Rothstein wrote that Holocaust museums flinched from emphasizing the uniqueness of Jewish suffering. No such museum, he observed, could seemingly be complete without invoking other 20th-century genocides in Rwanda, Darfur or Cambodia.
If we are all guilty, though, then no one is guilty. More balefully still, if everyone can be a Nazi so, too, can the Jews. Holocaust universalism has thus led directly to the demonization of Israel by people claiming to be anti-racist.
In Britain, this is one reason why there have been strenuous objections to the Holocaust memorial and education center that the government wants to construct in a small park next to the Houses of Parliament. The project has been derailed by the late discovery of a planning law that forbids any such construction in this park, a law that the government is determined to overturn.
Aside from environmental objections, significant concerns have long been expressed that the message to be delivered by this center will relativize and thus devalue the Holocaust. These objections have been brushed aside by the government and the project’s backers in the Jewish community leadership.
However, the government itself has now given the game away by acknowledging that the main purpose of this center is not to commemorate the genocide of the Jews. As Housing Minister Baroness Scott disclosed earlier this month, its aim is to ensure that the story of what happened in the Holocaust “resonates with the public.”
And how will it do that? By denying the unique nature of the Jewish genocide. “The content will also address genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur,” she said.
This drew a furious response from one of the leading opponents of the project, Baroness Deech, who said it would “demote the Shoah.”
Deech, who is Jewish and whose late father, historian Josef Fraenkel, fled the Nazis, said: “It would prompt generalities about hate and intolerance and would drain the presentation of the Shoah from its antisemitic origins dating back thousands of years.”
She went on: “They are going to put forward the message that if you see something bad going on, you must not be a bystander. If it’s just ‘don’t be a bystander,’ I don’t see how that helps people understand antisemitism and the plight of the Jews.”
Deech was backed by Gary Mond, chairman of the National Jewish Assembly, who said: “The main concern is that there must be no dilution to the principle that the Holocaust was totally unique and incomparable.”
But that message will be utterly diluted by this proposed memorial.
The government is being egged on by Jewish community leaders who refuse to get the point. Instead, they have bullied objectors to the project and vilified them as antisemites, despite the fact that a number of them are Jews.
These leaders are thus weaponizing antisemitism to drive through a project that will instrumentalize antisemitism, in order to deliver a message that will betray the memory of Jews murdered in the Shoah by diminishing their unique fate.
Universalizing the Holocaust has happened for two reasons. The non-Jewish world wants to share the protected moral status of being victims of the greatest crime in history by claiming other evils are just as bad. Diaspora Jews, desperate not to be viewed as different, are terrified of asserting Jewish uniqueness, even over this.
Meanwhile, a depraved antisemite struts the stage in Berlin.
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.