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5 January 2022

Letter of the week: The truth about Haavara

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Your letter of the week (Correspondence, 10 December) made an excellent general point about the predicament facing refugees. One sentence, however, stands out like a sore thumb: “Zionists in Palestine agreed to accept wealthy Jews under the 1933 Haavara trade agreement with the Third Reich because they could share the economic spoils.” This is completely garbled. Palestine at the time was under British rule, not that of “Zionists”. The agreement presupposed British restrictions on the economic status of Jewish immigrants into Palestine. It followed a Nazi boycott of Jewish-owned businesses in Germany and it enabled around 60,000 German Jews, not all of them “wealthy”, to escape the approaching Holocaust. Even so, the agreement split Jews worldwide. In short, the topic is complex, the circumstances were dire in the extreme, and Zionists were deeply divided over negotiating with the devil. You do not have to be a Zionist to object to the distortions in this sentence, whose connotations, moreover, are toxic.

Brian Klug, emeritus fellow in philosophy, St Benet’s Hall, University of Oxford

Editor’s note: in the 10 December issue of the New Statesman, the letter of the week contained an inaccurate reference to the 1933 Haavara agreement. We would like to apologise for the error and the offence caused.

Carry on doctor

When I finished Phil Whitaker’s excellent article (“The last days of the family doctor”, 10 December) I cheered. His argument for continuity of GP care is irrefutable, well researched and made with a calm, compelling force. And it is so well crafted, the analysis interspersed with the moving story of Daniel. A good doctor indeed – both in his patient care and in his advocacy for effective policy and practice.

Bryan Merton, Leicester

Phil Whitaker’s emphasis on continuity of GP (or even clinician) care is important. Scotland’s “new contract” asks GPs to be “expert medical generalists” (are we not that already?) dealing with complex care needs, while nurses, physiotherapists, etc, examine “simpler” conditions. But how are young GPs supposed to become expert without seeing the “simple” cases that help them learn about the complex ones? This approach risks fracturing continuity and ignores the holism that makes good general practice.

Sandy Rough, GP, Aberdeenshire

Lessons from tragedy

Your leader (“We should never forget Arthur”, 10 December) condemns the appalling case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and identifies failures by government (to provide the required funding) and a variety of local services (to communicate effectively and sensitively).

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Dr Mike Davis, Blackpool

No dark age

Ian McEwan’s essay (“Outside the whale”, 10 December) vividly depicts the dilemmas for writers confronted with the arenas of political struggle, and he rightly highlights George Orwell and Albert Camus as writers who saw through the totalitarianisms of their time.

It was a pity he slipped into stereotype in stating that “freedom of expression vanished in Christian medieval Europe for a thousand years”. In fact, scholars had considerable freedom in what they studied and wrote about, including non-Christian sources. Heresy trials were rare, with opportunities for repentance available. Would that today’s “guardians of orthodoxy” were so benign.

Gordon West, London W1

About Kevin

It was wonderful to see Kevin Maguire restored to the Christmas special print edition (Commons Confidential, 10 December) after being online only.

David English, Cardiff

Special delivery

Richard Dawkins’s notion (“On gods and monsters”, 10 December) that “a gentle little game of questioning” might reveal the truth about Santa Claus, eg, “‘How many chimneys would he have to reach, if he is to deliver presents to all the children in the world?’” underestimates a child’s sense of wonder and joyful acceptance of magic. When my eight-year-old niece was told that Santa was actually Mummy, she said: “Don’t be silly, Mummy can’t go round the world in time to give all the presents to the children!”

Helen Flanagan, via email

We reserve the right to edit letters

[see also: Richard Dawkins interview: “What I say in biology has become pretty much orthodoxy”]

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This article appears in the 05 Jan 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Johnson's Last Chance