CW: antisemitism, discussion of the Holocaust

The organisers of Sunday’s ‘Free Palestine’ protest and the Green Party have condemned antisemitic remarks made by a speaker, David Williams of the Green Party. Speaking at the rally, he claimed that the Nuremberg Act of 1934 was a ‘blue copy” for the Israeli Citizenship Act, and said, “It’s exactly the same”. Comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany are antisemitic according to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by Oxford University.

David Williams first got involved in the Oxford City Council in 2006, and ran for Parliament in 2019. According to his bio on the Green Party website, in 2019 he was also a UCU delegate of the Oxford Trades Council and a committee member of the Oxford European Movement.

Help The World Oxford, who organised the rally, said in a statement to The Oxford Blue that David Williams had not been invited to speak, suggesting that some of the politicians at the rally had spoken over them and used their power to advance their own agenda.

They continued, “We wish to make it clear that HTWO does not support this awful statement, and nobody who makes comparisons between Israel and Nazis is welcome in our group or at any of our protests. […] Let it be clear, blatant shows of anti-Semitism [sic] as were displayed in this speech have no place with Help The World Oxford, or in Oxford as a city”.

Help The World Oxford’s full statement can be found at the end of the article.

In an email to The Blue, David Williams responded to the claims of antisemitism by saying, “It’s not Anti Semitic its [sic] a simple fact . The Nuremberg Act of 1934 with its racial definition of citizenship has a very strong echo in the recent legislation passed in Israel. That’s why it was denounced internationally. The IHRA definition of anti racism [sic] was written to suppress criticism of the Israeli Government. I have spent 50 years fighting racism and I will continue to denounce any Government that seeks to impose an apartheid state based on ethnic and racial principles.”

He went on to send an email saying, “Here is what I actually said,” with document containing a speech titled “What was actually said Palestine 2021”. The text did not match the audio recording of his speech at the rally. Finally, Williams criticised the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and claimed that he had asked at the beginning of the march to speak, had been told that he could do so at Bonn Square, and was invited up to the plinth.

When contacted for comment on their party member’s comparison between Israel and Nazi Germany, a Green Party spokesperson said:

“The Green Party recognises that any comparison between the actions of the state of Israel and those of Nazi Germany are extremely offensive.

The Green Party condemns all forms of racism and believes in solidarity between all groups who face discrimination and abuse.

The party has a strong Jewish Greens group that has been involved in rolling out antisemitism training across the party, and has already trained members on all national bodies.”

In addition to Help The World Oxford and the Green Party, Williams has faced condemnation from students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, for his remarks. Leah Mitchell, a student at Wadham College who authors a Jewish students’ column at the Cherwell, pointed out that “The Nuremberg Laws forbade ‘interracial’ marriages, the employment of non-Jewish German women under the age of 45 by Jews, and flying the national flag or displaying its colours, and punished violations of these laws by sentences of hard labour. The Israeli citizenship act restricts who can become an Israeli citizen; it does legally enshrine double standards for Jews and Palestinians, and we may criticise this without pretending it is the same as the Nuremberg Laws”.

She continued, “It is also not a coincidence that it is always Nazi analogies for which people such as David Williams reach […] These analogies are calculated to hurt Jews the most, by bringing to the surface our collective trauma and then flipping it on its head. This tactic simultaneously undermines the significance of our suffering, suggesting that it is no longer relevant because the tables have now turned, and demonises Israel – a state created in large part as a result of the Holocaust, and which, whatever else we might think of it, has saved the lives of millions of Jews – as our ultimate incarnation of evil.”

Her full statement, explaining why Nazi analogies are harmful to Jews and counterproductive to the peace process, can be found at the end of the article.

Responding to Williams’s suggestions that the IHRA definition is problematic, not his remarks, another Jewish student, who wished to remain anonymous, stated, “If you’re going to find an anti-IHRA Jew or a Jew who thinks it’s not antisemitic to compare Israel to Hitler then qualify the statement with ‘that Jew is fringe'”.


Help The World Oxford’s full statement:

“Hello, we are Help The World Oxford (HTWO), and we called the protest in Oxford in solidarity with Palestine on May 16th. As a group we consider ourselves activists against the horrific treatment of Palestinians.

At the protest a speaker from the Green Party, who we had not invited to speak, made a disgusting statement, which involved the comparison of Israel to the Nazis.

We wish to make it clear that HTWO does not support this awful statement, and nobody who makes comparisons between Israel and Nazis is welcome in our group or at any of our protests.

To be clear, HTWO did not know that this statement was going to be made, and had we known we would have done everything in our power to stop him from getting a platform.

Unfortunately due to us being a youth group of mostly women and other marginalised genders, adults find it very easy to speak over us, and often take advantage of power dynamics to push their own views and agenda, which is why the speaker was able to say what he did.

We are grateful to The Oxford Blue for giving us a platform to condemn what was said during our protest, as we couldn’t react how we would have liked in the protest itself. Let it be clear, blatant shows of anti-Semitism as were displayed in this speech have no place with Help The World Oxford, or in Oxford as a city.”

Leah Mitchell’s full statement:

Firstly, the obvious point must be stated: the comparison is simply inaccurate. Israel’s citizenship act may be legitimately criticised as unfair and discriminatory along lines of ethnic identity, but it simply is not the same as, or equivalent to, the Nuremburg Laws. The Nuremberg Laws forbade ‘interracial’ marriages, the employment of non-Jewish German women under the age of 45 by Jews, and flying the national flag or displaying its colours, and punished violations of these laws by sentences of hard labour. The Israeli citizenship act restricts who can become an Israeli citizen; it does legally enshrine double standards for Jews and Palestinians, and we may criticise this without pretending it is the same as the Nuremberg Laws. The Nuremberg Laws represented an important step on the path of state-mandated antisemitism which led to the Holocaust. The Holocaust is our genocide, from which our global population has still not recovered. It is the murder and abuse and trauma inflicted on our families. It is not your simile.

The use of such analogies is in any case generally unhelpful, since it erases context and amalgamates distinct types of and motivations for oppression. Pointing out how awful the oppression of one minority is (and in the case of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, there is no question that it is awful) does not advance liberation efforts if one does so by tokenising the suffering of another minority. It serves no one.

It is also not a coincidence that it is always Nazi analogies for which people such as David Williams reach, rather than comparisons to any other oppressive force. These analogies are calculated to hurt Jews the most, by bringing to the surface our collective trauma and then flipping it on its head. This tactic simultaneously undermines the significance of our suffering, suggesting that it is no longer relevant because the tables have now turned, and demonises Israel – a state created in large part as a result of the Holocaust, and which, whatever else we might think of it, has saved the lives of millions of Jews – as our ultimate incarnation of evil.

Even if the harm to the Jewish community is not enough to convince people to stop reaching for poorly thought-out Nazi or Holocaust comparisons (which it ought to be), it is also an important consideration that such comparisons really do nothing to help Palestinians. The priority for all people genuinely committed to Palestinian liberation should be analysing the specific forms of oppression and brutality which Palestinians face and working out how to combat them. Such inflammatory rhetoric as Williams’ not only fails to do this, but it immediately puts Jews (who possess a collective ‘siege mentality’ developed from thousands of years of global antisemitic violence and persecution) on the defensive and escalates hostilities by tapping into intergenerational trauma. None of this serves the purpose of effective peace-building.

It is important to emphasise that none of the above in any way excuses or diminishes the Israeli government’s appalling treatment of Palestinians. But such complex and incendiary situations as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict require thoughtful and careful handling if the aim is actually to help Palestinians rather than merely to harm Jews, and the use of such comparisons does nothing other than simply alienate Jews from a cause in which we ought to be and often are deeply invested.

If anyone is affected by issues raised in this article, they can contact the Oxford University Jewish Society, or JSoc, for welfare support. People are also encouraged to report antisemitic incidents to CST at [email protected].

Image Credit: Zaman Keinath-Esmail

This article was updated on the 19th May to clarify that the anonymous student’s comment was that “If you’re going to find an anti-IHRA Jew or a Jew who thinks it’s not antisemitic to compare Israel to Hitler then qualify the statement with ‘that Jew is fringe'”.

Zaman Keinath-Esmail

Zaman Keinath-Esmail (she/her) is one of the Editors-in-Chief at The Oxford Blue, having previously been Senior Opinions Editor and Senior Columns Editor. She studies Physics, sits on various society and...