Award-winning British writer and columnist Howard Jacobson delivered the B’nai B’rith World Center “Jerusalem Address” entitled "When will Jews be forgiven the Holocaust?" in Jerusalem on the evening of Oct. 7.
The “Jerusalem Address” was established by the B’nai B’rith World Center in 1985 as a forum for addressing fundamental challenges facing Israel and the Jewish people. It has consistently hosted outstanding speakers including Israeli diplomat and politician Abba Eban, literary critic George Steiner, American diplomat Max Kampelman and British journalist Melanie Phillips, among others.
The event was chaired by B’nai B’rith World Center Chairman Haim V. Katz and concluding remarks were made by the British Ambassador to Israel Matthew Gould.
In his address, Jacobson argued that anti-Semites deny the Holocaust and hide behind criticism of Israel, to both disguise and excuse the guilt of their anti-Jewish sentiment.
“The shocking psychological truth is that man rejects the burden of guilt by turning the tables on those we have wronged and portraying ourselves as the victims of their suffering,” Jacobson, the 2010 Man Booker Prize winner, said. “The Roman historian Tacitus spells it out: 'It is part of human life,' he wrote, 'to hate the man you have hurt.' Those we harm, we blame—mobilizing dislike and even hatred in order to justify, after the event, the harm we did. From which it must follow that those who are harmed the most, as in the case of the Shoah—are blamed the most.”
Jacobson added: "The question, ‘when will Jews be forgiven the Holocaust,’ and its implied answer—never—have political implications right enough, but there's an important non-political lesson to be drawn from them. If it's not for anything they have done, but for what's been done to them that Jews cannot be forgiven, then it's in vain for Jews to strive to alter the way the world sees them.”
Jacobson also addressed anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
"B’nai B’rith has been proud to host the leading thinkers of the day on the platform of the Jerusalem Address, and this evening we have heard an invaluable assessment of the use of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the political attacks on Israel, and the place of Holocaust denial in this vitriolic rhetoric,” Katz said following Jacobson’s address. “Howard Jacobson is a leading British voice, and uses his eloquent written style, and tonight, his erudite speaking abilities to shed light on how those who profess to have liberal values, when it comes to Israel and the Jews, maintain the oldest of prejudices."
Ambassador Gould closed out the evening by thanking Jacobson.
"It has been a privilege to hear Howard speak this evening,” Gould said. “Voices such as Howard’s are essential for the Jewish community, and indeed he has an almost holy role, not merely as an observer and commentator on identity - but as someone who has helped to shape our identity. He has so often taken our hands and guided us through the complexities of being Jewish in the modern Diaspora."
About Howard Jacobson
Howard Jacobson is an author and journalist, hailing from Manchester, England. He studied English at Downing College under F.R. Leavis, an influential British literary critic, and lectured for three years at the University of Sydney before returning to teach at Selwyn College in Cambridge, England.
Jacobson has been described by some as today’s “most Jewish Jewish novelist.” He is the author of 12 novels, including The Mighty Walzer, Kalooki Nights and The Finkler Question, for which he won the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction. His most recent novel Zoo Time was published in 2012.