London Students Refuse to Mark Holocaust Day

One opponent calls motion to mark day in Goldsmiths University 'colonialist'; another says proposal must be rejected so as not to affect organization's pro-Palestinian stance; union president calls discussion 'storm in a tea cup.'

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The railroad tracks leading to the entrance of the Auschwitz concentration camp, January 1941 .
Colonialist? The railroad tracks leading to the entrance of the Auschwitz concentration camp, January 1941. Credit: AP
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

The students union at London’s Goldsmiths University last week rejected a proposal to commemorate the international Holocaust Remembrance Day, branding it as “Eurocentric” and “colonialist.”

A motion brought before the student body suggested recognizing “the unspeakable horrors” of the Holocaust, other genocides, totalitarianism and racial hatred. It called on the union to organize commemorative events on Holocaust Memorial Day, on the European Day of Remembrance for Victims of Stalinism and Nazism and on Armenian Genocide Day, among others.

One of the vociferous opponents to the motion was the union’s Education Officer Sarah El-alfy, a Muslim student, who urged students to reject the “Eurocentric” and “colonialist” motion.

El-alfy said on Twitter that she was not against Holocaust Day and said the union had marked Holocaust Day with events in the past and would continue to do so. But she added “it is Eurocentric and pro-British colonialist if only specific dates are mentioned, where all are European history and don’t extend to those atrocities committed by Britain itself.”

She commended “the wonderful support from Goldsmiths’ students” in rejecting the motion.

In an interview to the British news website The Tab, El-alfy said “while the motion seemed sound at first, and I completely agreed with its sentiments, remembrance days should not be reduced to a list of European historical dates only.

“With our long history of pushing for diversity and recognition of multiple struggles, and considering it is currently Black History Month, I feel the motion didn’t go far enough.”

Other students published their reasons for denying the motion on their Twitter accounts.

“The motion would force people to remember things they may not want to remember,” one student tweeted.

“White people should not be proposing motions to condemn genocides without a lot of thought. This does not have that thought,” another tweeted.

Union President Howard Littler said: “We have put on events to commemorate the Holocaust before. The opposition here came from wanting to make the motion include a broader list of things to remember.” He called the discussion “a storm in a tea cup.”

Last month, the U.K.’s national students union rejected a motion to condemn Islamic State, also known as ISIS, on the grounds that the proposal was “Islamophobic.”

The motion calling on the body to condemn the brutal Sunni militant group was put to the National Union of Students’ National Executive Council.

The motion urged students “to condemn the IS and support Kurdish forces fighting against it, while expressing no confidence or trust in the U.S. military intervention,” according to student news website The Tab. It also called for unity among Muslims.

The motion had already been adopted by Scotland’s national student union, but Black Students Officer Malia Bouattia called on students to reject it when it reached the NUS executive council meeting in September.

“We recognize that condemnation of ISIS appears to have become a justification for war and blatant Islamaphobia,” The Tab cited her as saying. The rhetoric exacerbates the issue at hand and in essence is a further attack on those we aim to defend.”

Bouattia, a student of postcolonial theory and language at the University of Birmingham, is planning to put forward a new motion against IS that will “in no way pander to Western imperialistic intervention or the demonization of Muslim peoples.”

“The more radical British students see the Holocaust as an instrument in the hands of Zionism,” said Dor Glick, an Israeli student at the London School of Economics told Haaretz.

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