The newest Holocaust monument and its exploitation by the far-right for anti-Muslim bigotry

First I would like to describe the new Canadian National Holocaust Monument which I visited in Ottawa, Canada. While the monument was long overdue, I believe it to be a fitting tribute to the memory of the victims of the largest genocide in human history, and particularly the Jews, the main target of the Nazis.

The monument in pictures

The monument is spectacular from an architecture point of view. If seen from above, it is shaped like a stylized Star of David. The following four pictures show parts of the monument from outside and from inside.

Front entrance view
Front entrance view

 

Back entrance view
Back entrance view

 

Inside view
Inside view

 

Main hall
Main hall

 

The following five pictures show some of the displays inside the monument. One of the murals which is a depiction of a prayer room has inscriptions in Hebrew, including the Jewish prayer “May our eyes behold your return to Zion in mercy” (Amidah prayer).

Plaque explaining a mural of a barbed wire fence
Plaque explaining a mural of a barbed wire fence

 

The mural of a barbed wire fence
The mural of a barbed wire fence

 

A live flame commemorating the victims of the Holocaust
A live flame commemorating the victims of the Holocaust

 

Plaque explaining a mural of a prayer room
Plaque explaining a mural of a prayer room

 

The mural of a prayer room
The mural of a prayer room

 

A controversial omission by the Canadian government

The monument that was commissioned by the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper was unveiled on September 27, 2017 by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Controversy soon followed when it became apparent that the inauguration plaque failed to mention Jews or antisemitism.

My friend Fred Litwin, a Conservative and author of Conservative Confidential, noticed the omission early, and on the morning of September 28, he sent an email to a senior political advisor within the Canadian government. Litwin received a response the next day advising him that the error was noted and that it would be corrected as quickly as possible.

The error, however, was soon in world news. The Guardian, for example, wrote that “Canada’s government has removed a plaque inaugurating the country’s new Holocaust monument after critics blasted it for failing to mention Jewish people or antisemitism”. Ironically, The Guardian carried no story about the unveiling of the monument a week earlier.

“How could the prime minister permit such a glaring omission of reference to anti-Semitism and the fact that the millions of men, women and children who were murdered were overwhelmingly Jewish?”, correctly observed Conservative opposition member David Sweet.

This was particularly damning for Trudeau considering that in his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2016, he also forgot to mention Jews or antisemitism (he later tweeted a correction). As was observed by Aiden Pink in Forward, it seems that “Justin Trudeau keeps forgetting that Jews were in the Holocaust”.

Obviously Trudeau did not make the inauguration plaque himself, and he likely did not write his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but he should have reviewed both. The error is particularly unacceptable the second time.

Thankfully Trudeau did not forget to mention Jews in the speech that he made at the monument’s inauguration, and it is important to note that both errors were quickly acknowledged, but the government of Canada must ensure that such errors never happen again.

Exploitation of the controversy for anti-Muslim bigotry

Unfortunately, while the Conservative opposition and most media reacted appropriately to the error, one far-right personality did not. Ezra Levant is a Canadian far-right writer and broadcaster, the approximate equivalent of America’s Steve Bannon who was for a few months President Donald Trump’s chief strategist.

Levant launched The Rebel Media in February 2015. This is his third attempt at running a right-wing media organization. His previous attempts were Western Standard and Sun News Network, both now defunct.

The Rebel Media encountered controversy of its own after the rally in Charlottesville in August. Several contributors quit over what they felt was a lukewarm response by The Rebel Media to the displays of Neo-Nazi fanaticism at the Charlottesville rally. Levant was left to pick up the pieces, so it is understandable that he would be desperate for attention, but his response to the Holocaust monument’s controversy was appalling.

In the video that he filmed, Levant makes some valid points, but he disgraced himself at the end of the video when he made what can only be described as an attempt to exploit anti-Muslim bigotry. He showed Trudeau sitting with a few Muslim men, and he asked, “Do you think when Justin Trudeau inevitably announces a billion dollar for his new Islamophobia museum one day, do you think he’ll forget to mention Muslims by name every single time… Yeah, me neither. I’ll bet you a dollar that he’ll call it a Holocaust though, and he’ll compare anyone who is critical of Islam to a Nazi”.

The billion-dollar “Islamophobia museum” is a figment of Levant’s imagination, and his rant is practically an accusation of antisemitism against Trudeau. After seeing such a video, there is no doubt that Canada’s far right is infected with anti-Muslim bigotry, but what is even more disturbing is that the far right is determined to widen the divide between Jews and Muslims, at the expense of both.

Forget the controversy, and visit the monument

The monument is spectacular, but it is far more so in person. It is located across from Canada’s War Museum which is also worth visiting. One positive outcome of the controversy is that it gave the monument much more media coverage that it would have received otherwise.

Hopefully the controversy will be forgotten but the monument will be often visited and seen for what it is: a reminder that unchecked antisemitism resulted in the most extensive genocide in human history, and that we must never let our guard down again.

More pictures from the monument

The following 27 pictures show the text displayed in the main hall, recounting some of the history of the Holocaust. The text recognizes Canada’s antisemitic history and its shameful rejection of Jewish refugees even at a time when the reality of the Holocaust had become known by allied nations.

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About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports the Palestinians' right to self-determination in their own state. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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