EU, Israel push to make Shoah education more relatable to Muslims

“It makes it difficult to be a Holocaust denier if there was a Nazi occupation of your own country and if you were also victims.”

December 14, 2016 05:20
3 minute read.
A red rose lies at Gleis 17 (platform 17) holocaust memorial in Berlin

A red rose lies at Gleis 17 (platform 17) holocaust memorial at a former cargo railway station in Berlin-Grunewald. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Representatives from the European Union and Israel gathered Tuesday in Jerusalem for the 10th EU-Israel Seminar on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Antisemitism, where they discussed their continuing work to combat antisemitism, exchanging experiences and best practices.

The main issues on the agenda were fighting antisemitism through online platforms and education. The EU and Israel agreed to continue their close cooperation though educational initiatives, in addition to tackling dangerous cyber hate.

The seminar drew representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the European Commission, the European External Action Service, the Fundamental Rights Agency, members of Knesset and representatives from the Education Ministry, research institutions, NGOs and technology companies.

“In the face of rising intolerance in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, government and public servants must find their way to develop new tools for confronting fresh challenges,” said Akiva Tor, head of the Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions at the Foreign Affairs Ministry. “We need to be proactive and creative in developing innovative tools for education towards tolerance, and we need to become more vigilant against the use of hi-tech in the spread of hate.”

“This past year, Europe has faced many challenges. Rising antisemitism is one of them and it has repercussions on society at large,” said Katharina von Schnurbein, European Union coordinator on combating antisemitism.

She emphasized the need to join forces and fight all forms of racism in a holistic way, via concrete policies, law enforcement on hate crimes and tackling online hatred. She also stressed the importance of education and coalition building as preventatives measures.

“Our common values are under attack and we need to fight for them together,” she said.

As part of their outreach efforts in Muslim communities, the delegation listened to a presentation on the plight of North African Jewry during the Second World War and making the Holocaust relevant for immigrant populations in Europe, delivered by Prof. Haim Saadoun at the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem.

Tor and von Schnurbein explained to The Jerusalem Post that during the seminar participants discussed ways to make Holocaust education more relatable to Muslim students, such as focusing on the situation of North African countries, such as Libya and Tunisia, during the war and showing how they too were affected by the Nazi regime. “It makes it difficult to be a Holocaust denier if there was a Nazi occupation of your own country and if you were also victims,” von Schnurbein said.

“We thought Israel could offer something useful by showing various facets of how the Shoah [Holocaust] is taught to Arab and Muslim populations here,” Tor added, mentioning a lecture that was given to the participants on tolerance and Holocaust education in Arab schools.

“It’s important to make education relevant and to separate it from other societal problems of alienation,” Tor said.

“Israel faces some similar challenges to Europe – we want young Israeli Arabs to learn this history when it’s not a natural part of their narrative. Europe faces a similar situation – they want to teach them [non-European immigrants] this history that they may feel alienated from, so by looking at it from this way, it creates a point of entry.”

“And you also need to acknowledge their current situation,” von Schnurbein added, pointing to discrimination against Muslims in the labor market, the housing market and education. “It’s the same principle. You have to make the link to their own backgrounds.”

On Monday night, von Schnurbein met at the Knesset with Diaspora Affairs and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi), who expressed concern regarding antisemitism in Europe. He said that while antisemitism has not broken nor will it break the Jewish people, “We need to make sure that Jewish communities are not harmed and the Jews are strong and secure.

“The Jews are citizens of European countries and they are one of the essential elements of the continent,” he added. “If they are forced to leave, it will be bad for all Jews, for Israel and for Europe.”

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