The following story has odd timing – only yesterday I was pondering the comparison between Auschwitz and Guantanamo.
Next month I will be presenting a paper in Krakow and as it will be the third time I have visited (and the hotel is so close to the bus station), I considered visiting the former concentration camp.
Browsing the website I was surprised that the 90 minute tour could be bought to the tune of £50 per person.
Which led to an impromptu debate with my colleague concerning the notion that the Holocaust has become a business and I wondered whether in 40 years time Guantanamo would be the same.
Somehow I doubt it – most likely it will be confined to the footnotes of history, a time that the West would prefer to forget.
Nevertheless, the comparison between the two camps is intriguing and one which cost the Jewish poet and activist Josh Healey his place on the first J Street National Conference.
The organization markets itself as being:
[F]ounded to promote meaningful American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically. [Source]
Yet the reality is that the perspective is wholly biased:
J Street represents Americans, primarily but not exclusively Jewish, who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own – two states living side-by-side in peace and security. [Source]
After a blogger posted a reminder that Healey compared Guantanamo prison to Auschwitz, the poetry session was cancelled.
Ironically the session was titled ‘Culture as a Tool for Change’.
Freedom of speech is clearly not an inherent aspect of culture or change for J Street, then.
In response, Healey struck out at J Street for undermining efforts at dialogue and open thought:
I had a conversation with ‘J Street’ staff, and they explained that they are playing the game – Washington politics, and seeking legitimacy. And they are not willing to fight this battle.
I told them I don’t think it’s the legitimacy they want, because it’s not the legitimacy that makes change. When you’re trying to make change, you must expect that some people will push back. […] I’m not personally offended – I’m politically disappointed.
It’s ironic that we were invited to perform and be a part of the dialogue at the track ‘The culture as a tool for change.’ But we can’t even have this dialogue. The Jewish community acts like children, with smear campaigns and name-calling. I am not surprised by the right wing attacks – but that J-Street went along with it and accommodated it. [Source]
It is interesting to note that throughout the article neither the organizers of the conference nor the writer refer directly to the comparison between Guantanamo and Auschwitz, merely that Holocaust imagery is not to be ‘used’ and ‘abused’.
Whether Healey was justified in his comparison is beside the point: it is the bitter censorship – particularly from an organization posturing about ‘diplomatic solutions’ – that rankles most.