German Shoah fund entangled in anti-Semitic project

Exchange program with Nazareth students highlights ‘rich, violent’ Jews.

By JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
September 25, 2011 17:33
Teacher with students (illustrative)

Teacher with students. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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BERLIN – A German foundation that seeks to combat Jew-hatred and carry forward the memories of the victims of the Nazi period has enabled teenage students to draw crude pictures of Israeli Jewish pupils as part of a German and Israeli Arab high-school exchange program.

The revelation that a Holocaust foundation funneled public money to hardcore anti-Israel educational activities unleashed criticism last week from the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor group and German experts on academic anti- Semitism.

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The foundation – Remembrance, Responsibility, Future (EVZ) — provided funds to partner agencies to produce a 31-page brochure depicting Orthodox Jewish students wearing yarmulkes and bearing sidelocks while seated in a well-kept classroom with a sign over a world map stating “Jewish School.”

The adjacent drawing shows a dilapidated, overcrowded schoolroom with Palestinian pupils seated below a giant cobweb and a beat-up map lacking countries. A collapsing sign above the students reads “Palestine School.”

A second cartoon apparently shows a light-skinned Israeli asking a dark-skinned Palestinian if he wants to be friends. An imposing tank is positioned behind both students, suggesting that the Israeli student is compelling the Palestinian student to shake his hand.

Anne Herzberg, legal adviser for NGO Monitor, told The Jerusalem Post on Friday, “The reported use of German government funding for a student project that produced anti-Semitic images is deplorable, and shows a complete lack of judgment and oversight.”

Herzberg added, “Instead of utilizing the funding to compensate victims of the Nazis and educate about the horrors of the regime, as it was intended, money was redirected to a project for Arab and German students that both presented and fostered a distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”



Students from Nazareth and the Gerhart Hauptmann school in Wernigerode, a small town in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, participated in the exchange program, whose purpose was to examine the “Right to Education.”

The exchange program took place during the 2010- 2011 school year. Dr. Ralf Possekel, head of programs for EVZ, wrote the Post on Thursday, “The German students, to my knowledge, do not want to speak with journalists after this incident, because they do not trust that the reporting will be correct.”

The brochure features articles in English, Arabic and German. Dr. Martin Salm, the chairman of the Holocaust foundation, said that “500 copies were produced at a cost of 2,130 euros.”

Salm told the Post that the brochure is “problematic” and promotes “stereotypes” because it shows male Israelis with sidelocks and yarmulkes. He said that EVZ funded the exchange program in the context of a partnership program with other NGOs, and that he would not allow the brochures into the foundation’s offices.

Salm backtracked from a one-page unsigned letter that had been sent to the Post by his foundation, which rejected “the formulation that the criticisms of the students is an attitudinal expression of anti-Semitism.”

Katja Wegner, a spokeswoman for the foundation, sent the letter to the Post last week. A separate media report attributed the letter to Salm.

Asked about experts who view the material as anti- Semitic, Salm said he “agrees” with that characterization, adding that “every second [German] TV program” on Israel depicts images of ultra-Orthodox Jews. He insisted that EVZ does not want to transmit pejorative images of Jews and “there will no longer be any more cooperation work with this [the Gerhart Hauptmann] school.”

He faulted the educators for failing to properly guide the 17- and 18-year-old students. Salm claimed to have not previously seen the booklets.

Herzberg, from NGO Monitor, said, “When the German students visited Nazareth, for example, they learned ‘about the lands that the Palestinians no longer possess due to the Jewish occupation.’ The same student who wrote this account also makes comparisons about the suffering of ‘both the Arabs and the Germans.’

“It is the height of absurdity that the German government would allow this funding to continue. The funding should stop immediately and a complete evaluation of all committee members and funding mechanisms should begin,” Herzberg said.

Dr. Elvira Grözinger, a cofounder and board member of the German section of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME), told the Post, “I especially consider the two children’s drawings as anti-Semitic, especially the one by Julia M. Zigann, who depicts the ‘Jews’ versus the ‘Palestinians.’ This is a typical generalization (all the Jews) and stereotype for anti-Semitic cartoons, but all the more shocking, as it comes from a German schoolgirl. The tank implying Israeli (Jewish) aggression tends into the same direction. Whoever teaches these children such distorted picture of history and mutual relations is committing a great mistake.”

In a second drawing, Zigann depicted Jews celebrating their access to books while Palestinian books are in chains.

“Whoever maintains that Israeli Arabs are not allowed to go to school, spreads one-sided anti-Jewish propaganda lies. Arabs from Israel and Jerusalem of course attend schools of all levels including the Israeli universities, just like the Palestinians in the former Jordanian territories attend schools up to their own Bir Zeit University, a former college. Israeli academia includes Arabs, and Israeli Arabs are even ministers in the Israeli government as well as members of the Knesset,” Grözinger said.

“There are faults in every school system, but to draw anti-Israeli conclusions from this is to incite irresponsible and dangerous indoctrination, harmful to a peaceful coexistence between the national groups,” she said.

EVZ was created in 2000 to compensate “former slave and forced laborers and other victims of National Socialism,” according to its website. The German government and the German Industry Foundation Initiative finance EVZ.

“In the many instances of government funding being misused by non-governmental organizations, this, clearly, is one of the saddest,” Herzberg said. “Victims of the Nazi regime have every right to this funding and their full compensation – it is the German government’s responsibility to ensure that this occurs.”

According to the brochure, the NGO “HEARProject” of the Masar-Institute for Education, which operates the alternative Masar School in Nazareth, oversaw the exchange program and presents itself as a ”German and Israeli” youth program in Germany.

Dr. Matthias Küntzel, a Hamburg-based political scientist and leading expert on German anti-Semitism, told the Post, “The foundation thus fell for fake marketing. In its own profile, the school emphasizes that it has neither Jewish students nor a Jewish teacher. The school is operated by a non-governmental organization that accuses the Israeli educational system of subjecting the country’s Arab minority to ‘social control’ and ‘social exclusion.’ This project separates itself from Israel in content and methodology. It aims not at integration but at exclusion. Thus this private school’s statements emphasize the ‘principle of natural inequality.’

"This background explains why, in the brochure's drawings of the HEAR Project, Israel is never spoken of, but only Jews and Palestinians. It explains why the image, familiar from PLO propaganda, of rich and violent Jews on the one hand and poor and oppressed Arabs on the other is presented," Küntzel said.

He called for the EVZ Board of Directors to stop financial support for HEAR projects.

The brochure draws many disturbing parallels between Israel and the former East Germany Stalinist state.

Arab Israeli student Majdi Darawshi writes, “At the end I found the histories of Palestine and Germany to be very similar, as people in both countries felt the need to fight for their rights of a better life...”

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