Minister under fire for Middle East-Holocaust comparison

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The Government minister responsible for Holocaust memorial day has been accused of making "irresponsible and insensitive" remarks linking the Nazi genocide to the troubles in the Middle East.

Comments by Fiona Mactaggart, a junior Home Office minister, at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference in Brighton earlier this week, have caused outrage in the Jewish community.

Lord Janner of Braunstone, a Labour peer and chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, has written to the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, demanding an explanation.

Speaking at a function of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, Ms Mactaggart said: "The fact Holocaust memorial day is being celebrated in Belfast this year and is focusing on Rwanda is something we should enthusiastically join in and at the same time say we have solidarity with you in remembering this genocide, but that does not mean that we support what Israel is doing to the Palestinians today. Indeed you could draw some parallels."

Lord Janner said: "It is especially inappropriate for the Home Office minister in charge of community policy to draw parallels between the Holocaust and any aspect of the situation between Israel and Palestine.

"It is also gravely offensive and shows a lack of historical perspective. It is both irresponsible and insensitive to make statements likely to stir up tensions between our Jewish and Muslim communities."

Gena Turgel, 80, a holocaust survivor now living in London, told PA News: "I am absolutely shocked ... How could she make such an inappropriate comparison?"

But in a statement to totallyjewish.com, the news website, Ms Mactaggart said: "I was not seeking to draw a parallel between the Holocaust and what's happening in the Middle East. I'm saying there are parallels in how a community which feels assaulted by an experience feels, in order to make somebody in my audience understand why he, as someone who strongly opposed the actions of the government of Israel, should strongly support Holocaust memorial day." She stressed that she did not speak for the Government on foreign affairs.

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