When Britain’s Holocaust memorial next to Parliament was conceived, no one could have anticipated how relevant its location would be. Anti-Semitism in Britain long has been present and many of my generation have memories from our schooldays. There was my art master who proclaimed Jewish boys can’t paint, ignorant of Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Camille Pizarro, David Bomberg and others.
But what is different now is the ferocity of the anti-Semitic attitudes and the terror fear, which means Jewish venues have to be guarded from potential assailants. And, chillingly, the spectre of one of our major political parties preparing for government, with a leader in Jeremy Corbyn, who declines to disavow anti-Zionism and embraces Palestinian groups who threaten to wipe Israel off the map.
The Shoah memorial so close to the Commons will be a permanent symbol of how rhetoric magnified by social media can lead to violence and persecution of minorities.
However, not even the creation of a permanent Shoah memorial happens without friction. It may be part of the museum culture in Berlin, Washington, Sydney and elsewhere but, in London, controversy stalks the project. As in many areas of scholarship there is fierce competition for territory as well as money in the museum world.
When David Cameron threw his weight behind a Holocaust memorial in London, and put former Jewish Leadership Council chairman Sir Mick Davies behind the project, I thought the model to be followed was Washington.
Instead of facilities dedicated to the Shoah being dotted around London, from the Wiener Library to Imperial War Museum, a dedicated facility pulling together all the valuable archives and exhibits with a study centre seemed the right thing to do. Instead, we have a competition for a building that has attracted some of the finest architects and designers in the land, including Norman Foster, Daniel Libeskind and renowned Jewish sculptor Anish Kapoor and a facility that is arousing jealousy.
The Imperial War Museum (IWM), which is investing £33m in its Holocaust facilities for education, is wary of a rival exhibit in a prime spot just a mile away from its own archives.
Duplication, in an age of scarce economic resources, is always a mistake. There is a case, for instance, for merging the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and Holocaust Educational Trust, each sponsored by different government departments and each with their own respective staff teams.
There is a danger of doubling up happening again because the commission established by Cameron came up with a muddled concept –
a memorial that also is an education centre.
I also think it’s an error to remember the Shoah in a war museum that glorifies weaponry when the allies famously refused to use that power to bomb the railways to Auschwitz. But at this stage, with key decisions taken, there is little point in the IWM becoming precious about a potential rival institution nearby. That is like the British Library objecting to the London Library.
What is important is that the memorial at Victoria Tower Gardens is built without interruption. And that it provides a sharp reminder to anti-Semites and anti-Zionists of what happens when the wickedness of mob rule becomes a dominant strand in politics.