(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hadash Chairman MK Mohammed Barakei's participation in Wednesday's Holocaust memorial ceremony at Auschwitz drew fierce criticism mostly from Arabs but also from some Jews.
The uproar highlighted the deep reluctance among many Arabs to acknowledge the Holocaust for fear of diminishing their own narrative of suffering at Israel's hands.
After visiting the death camp, Barakei said "things take on a different meaning [here]."
The lawmaker's visit was a rare Arab commemoration of the Holocaust.
Prior to leaving for Poland, Barakei condemned Israel's policies.
"The Jews, who are the victims of the Nazis, are now practicing oppression against the Palestinians," Barakei told The Associated Press. "I want to tell them: You must learn the real lesson, you must fight oppression and repression in all places and times."
Any attempt to equate the Palestinians' plight to the Nazi genocide is offensive to Jews.
Barakei was a member of the delegation, led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps in Poland. More than one million of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II died at the two camps.
Barakei frequently calls on his Arab brethren to recognize the Holocaust and understand its importance to Jews.
"I am here ... to remember and to connect to the same victims who are there today and bleeding," he told Army Radio in a telephone interview on Wednesday, shortly before visiting the camps. "I want to hear their screams."
Palestinian Authority officials shut down a children's orchestra and banished its conductor in March after they performed for elderly Holocaust survivors. In August, Palestinian officials in Gaza angrily reacted against UN officials who suggested including information about the Holocaust at their schools.
Views toward the Holocaust among Palestinians - and around the Arab world - range from outright denial to diminishing the full extent of the genocide.
One right-wing Knesset member had urged Barakei not to go to Poland.
"I am sure he will use this visit to attack Israel," said the Likud's Danny Danon. "The fact that he is making [an] analogy between the Holocaust and the Palestinians is outrageous."
Two other Arab-Israeli lawmakers previously visited the camp in an effort to build bridges, as did a group of about 100 Arab-Israeli writers and clerics in 2003. Hadash is Israel's communist party and Barakei is the most prominent Arab public figure yet to do so.
He comes from a family which fled its village during Israel's War of Independence, and his Knesset speeches often sharply criticize Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.
Barakei detractors in the Arab press argued that Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip made his visit inappropriate.
"There's a contradiction in morality between continuing the siege on Gaza and this visit. The Knesset members going to Auschwitz are the ones who demand this siege continue," said Abdel-Hakim Mufid of the radical Northern Islamic Movement.
Prominent Arab writer Zuhair Andraous called it "a slap in the face."
"We cannot participate in an Israeli formal delegation that includes right-wing legislators who are trying pass laws preventing us from commemorating our own catastrophe," Andraous said. (AP)