Plans for the National Holocaust Memorial outside UK Parliament have come under fire this week in an attempt to derail the government-backed project, with one minister receiving death threats, concerns raised over it being a terror target and a group of academics warning it is unfair to “overpower” other monuments, such as those for the abolition of slavery.

But the barrage of opposition fuelled by fear and threats are just more reasons justifying why the memorial and education centre are needed in the prominent position of Westminster.

Earlier this week it was reported that Communities Minister Robert Jenrick had been subject to death threats over his support for the memorial and was living under police protection after threats to “burn his house down”. 

Also, in a week that saw the start of a month-long planning enquiry over the project, terrorism expert Lord Carlile QC branded the plan as a “self-evident terrorism risk” and a “potential ‘trophy’ site”. The problem with this view is that such a memorial could be a target regardless of its location in London. Parliament has regrettably been a target itself in recent times and therefore its location is arguably one off the most closely watched zones in the country, but the wider issue is whether the British public are going allow such threats to deter the ambition of giving Holocaust memory the prominent memorial and learning facility that it deserves and importantly what this country needs.

Meanwhile a group of 42  academics said the significant size of the Holocaust Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens would “overpower all the existing important statues and memorials” commemorating women’s rights, immigration and the abolition of slavery. These causes have their place too, but it is deplorable to start making such callous and irrelevant comparisons, especially when this is in memory of over 6 million Jewish lives and others who were systematically murdered and for which Britain had a leading role in combating the evil that perpetrated it.

Let’s not forget that during the Holocaust the Nazis were barbaric abusers of womens’ rights, orchestrators of mass slavery and instigators of forced migration (in contrast to voluntary immigration) – issues that these same academics are concerned will be overshadowed perhaps need to be reminded of. The famous words, “When you go home tell them of us and say for your tomorrow we gave our today,” defines the need to ensure the next generation at home understands the extent of Nazi depravity and the cost to defeat it.

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 The group of academics, led by Professors and Drs from UCL, University of Edinburgh, University of Southampton and Northumbria University, say that the plans create a “celebratory narrative” of Britain’s response to the Holocaust and would portray the nation as “the ultimate saviour of the Jews”.

In their letter, the academics say they “oppose the current site” and instead set out a decentralised proposal as an alternative, which would “feed into a new open and explicit public dialogue about the form and location of a national Holocaust memorial in Britain.”

In other words some could interpret this opposition as Holocaust memory being an important issue, but not important enough to be front-and-centre. But this is one of the most pressing issues in our time. We live at a time of rising anti-Semitism in Britain with an increasing number of people who have never heard about the Holocaust. We must educate future generations and preserve these lessons of history. Indeed, there are some sincere advocates of Holocaust education who are genuinely concerned about the security of the proposed site, but our resilience to this threat is strengthened by our conscious determination to not allow them to overpower us.

Furthermore, the anti-Semitic attitudes that usually accompany such threats can only be properly combatted by accessible education and the visible demonstration that extremist ideologies that purport anti-Semitism will not be tolerated in Britain, and do not have public approval. For example, there are many stories of those who have harboured anti-Semitic attitudes living in the Middle East, but have had their thinking transformed when presented with a clear, fact-based understanding of what happened during the Holocaust.

Notably this week the foreign ministers of Israel and the United Arab Emirates visited the Holocaust Memorial in central Berlin during their “historic” first meeting in the German capital on Tuesday. It was apparently the UAE foreign minister’s idea to visit the memorial site alongside his Israeli counterpart in the first face-to-face meeting after their countries signed a US-brokered peace treaty in September.

In a handwritten message in the visitor’s book at the memorial, the Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan commemorated the “European Jewish victims of the Holocaust.”

“A whole group of humanity fell victim to those calling for extremism and hatred,” he wrote, adding that the visit to the memorial “underscored the importance of human values such as coexistence, tolerance and accepting the other… as well as respect for all creeds and faiths. These are the values upon which my country was founded.”

“I salute the souls of those who fell victim to the Holocaust,” Al Nahyan wrote, before quoting from a Jewish prayer translated into Arabic: “May their souls be bound up in the binds of life.”

“Never again,” he wrote, in both English and in Arabic.

Just a few weeks ago this occasion seemed unimaginable – from no diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel to one of the top Emirati diplomats standing among Israelis at the Berlin Holocaust memorial. There, he expressed his sorrow and publicly recognised that peace built on shared values is a firm foundation for not allowing such atrocity to happen again. And for 21st Century Britain in pursuit of a tolerant and peaceful society, this message couldn’t be more needed.

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