Toby Willig confronts Michael Vernstedt at Yad Vashem 370.
(photo credit:Atara Beck)
The grand-nephew of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat famous for having
rescued close to 100,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary, caused an uproar at a
symposium at Yad Vashem yesterday when he seemingly equated Israel’s policies in
the West Bank with the Assad regime’s suppression of the ongoing uprising in
“I must mention human rights violations in Syria and, being in
Israel, human rights violations in the West Bank. Silence in the face of evil is
evil,” said Michael Wernstedt at the symposium marking 100 years since the
Over the past 15 months, more than 10,000 Syrians –
including women and children – have been massacred, according to media
In the break that followed, several people, including a number
of Holocaust survivors, approached Wernstedt; most were upset by his remarks and
wanted to debate the issue, although a few individuals congratulated him for his
In a discussion with The Jerusalem Post
, Wernstedt acknowledged
that he has never visited Judea and Samaria and that his information comes
primarily from three sources: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and
B’Tselem, the “Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied
He said he expected that his comments might offend some among
the audience, but he went ahead nonetheless.
“Just as I speak out against
xenophobia in Sweden, I have to speak out here,” he said.
Porat, chief historian at Yad Vashem, was the next speaker, and she slammed
Wernstedt’s comparison of Syria and the West Bank within the context of human
rights. The situation in Syria is “not a matter of human rights violations, but
murder,” she asserted.
A Yad Vashem spokesperson said that Porat’s
“response from the podium can be seen as our official response.”
Irwin Cotler, Canadian MP and former minister of justice, described Wallenberg
as the “greatest humanitarian of the 20th century” in an eloquent talk on the
topic titled “Raoul Wallenberg and his Humanitarian Legacy – What have we
learned? What must we do? Cotler told the Post
that Wernstedt’s statement
constituted a “false moral equivalency” and was inappropriate.
D. Richter, founder of the Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention, said he
agrees with the premise that silence in the face of evil is evil in and of
itself, but he resented Wernstedt’s use of the term “evil” with regard to
Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
“Israel has had to address the
challenges to human life and security from genocidal terror,” he said, noting
the violence often perpetrated against Israeli citizens by Palestinians, who he
said are encouraged by their leaders.
“The most basic human right is life
itself, and genocidal terror is an assault on this most basic of rights, because
without life there are no other human rights,” Richter
“Furthermore, incitement to terror itself is a violation of core
human values and rights. Unfortunately, my colleagues and I have devoted
too much of our time dealing with this misinformation propagated by Amnesty
International, B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch.”
Historian Rafael Medoff,
director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, who attended the
symposium, said, “To implicitly compare Israel’s self-defense policies to the
actions of the Nazis is an insult to Yad Vashem and to the memory of Raoul
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