Open Letter to James O’Brien

Simon Maginn
3 min readApr 24, 2021

This is from August 2018, when Holocaust survivor Dr Hajo Meyer was accused by Mr O’Brien of antisemitism.

Dear Mr O’Brien,

I’ve admired your work on Brexit for some time now. You marshall information brilliantly, you present arguments logically and persuasively, and you have a clear, forensic mind that’s allowed you to cut through the lies and fantasies and delusions that have characterised the Brexit debate from its inception. You’re a powerful voice, one of very few.

So it’s doubly disappointing to me that I feel I must speak out about your recent comments concerning Dr Hajo Meyer, a (now deceased) Holocaust survivor.

The Labour antisemitism debate has also, from its inception, been founded on dishonesty. There are unquestionably some antisemites in the Labour party, and they must be, and are being, exposed and dealt with. There can be no excuse for this vile prejudice to fester, and wherever it’s found it must be eradicated. Anyone who is not in agreement with this has no place in the party I’ve supported my whole life.

But we’re now told it isn’t just a few dozen out of half a million who are at fault, it’s all of us, from Corbyn down, it’s the Labour party, it’s socialism, it’s the left. We’re “an existential threat to the Jewish community”, we’ve “declared war on Jews”. There are “fears of a second Holocaust”.

I don’t want to get into the weeds here. The debate has been so protracted that I would prefer not to add any more to it. We’ll never agree on it anyway. But it’s taken a sinister and malignant turn recently with the appearance of Dr Meyer in the story.

Dr Meyer’s family were lost in the Holocaust, he survived. He spoke often, he made himself a public figure. He told of his experiences, he warned: it must never happen again.

He also accused Israel of behaving like the Nazis in Palestine.

That isn’t language I would ever use, and I find Nazi comparisons in general to be rhetorically bankrupt. We reach far too easily for the comparison.

But Dr Meyer experienced the Holocaust and he’s experienced the occupation of Gaza. He has authority. Agree, disagree, but to deny him that authority, that legitimacy, because you disagree with him politically feels to me excessive and disrespectful.

Those who perished in the Holocaust deserve our respect, and those who survived it deserve our attention. Your words in a recent interview that he was ‘using’ his history as ‘camouflage’ for his antisemitism were, for me, the last straw.

Any debate that requires an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor to be accused of ‘using’ his history as ‘camouflage’ is the wrong debate. Any argument that requires him to be called an antisemite is the wrong argument. Any definition of antisemitism that requires him to be an antisemite is the wrong definition.

I’m sickened, frankly, that the Holocaust, a horror that haunts us all still, can be reduced to a debating point in a political war, and I deplore in the strongest terms your casual disrespect to this gentleman. The lost, and those who survived the horror, deserve far, far better than this.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Maginn