August 28: The Van Leer controversy

August 27, 2015 22:21
3 minute read.

Letters. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Van Leer controversy

“Controversy erupts over planned ‘Holocaust-Nakba’ event in Jerusalem” (August 26) notes that the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute plans to promote a book that equates the nakba (Arabic for catastrophe, and how the Palestinians refer to the rise of Israel) with the Holocaust.

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The Arabs should celebrate the establishment of the State of Israel since it is further proof that the Koran is true.

Arabs left the Arabian peninsula after the death of Mohammed in 632, and invaded and settled in dozens of countries, where they forced the local people to accept Islam. They created Muslim states in each of those countries, with one exception – the land of the Jews. This is because the Koran states in Surah 5:21, 7:137, 10:93, 17:104 and 28:4 (based on the translation by Abdullah Yusufali) that Allah allocated this land to the Jews.

No Muslim state was ever established in Palestine. The first attempt to do so was in 1948, and that ended in a catastrophe for the Arabs, since nobody can go against the will of Allah.


It is difficult for me to understand why there should be a problem with an event conflating the Holocaust and what the Palestinians call the nakba.

Surely it is of interest to examine how today’s Germans confront their elders’ attempt to eradicate the Jewish people alongside the lack of effort or understanding on the part of so many of today’s Arabs to accept the consequences of the failed attempt by their own elders to achieve the same purpose.

May I add that this is a purpose that, without doubt, is shared by some who will attend the conference.


I refuse to be a fig leaf.

In a number of written and broadcast interventions, the editors of The Holocaust and the Nakba, as well as Prof. Gabriel Motzkin, director of the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, a co-publisher of the book, have tried to justify its publication.

They claim, among other things, that it contains a “range of views,” and emphasize the fact that it includes a couple of essays criticizing the venture.

One of those essays was written by me.

I contributed the original essay not to a book discussing the Holocaust and the nakba together, but to something quite different. I was invited to write something for a Jewish-Arab discussion of the Holocaust, which seemed then, and still seems today, a very welcome thing. I warned, however – and this was the point of my essay – that such an encounter could succeed only if it was based on an honest respect of the nature of the Shoah, specifically its Jewishness.

Much later I was informed by the editors that they had decided to change the nature of the volume: Instead of a Jewish-Arab encounter to discuss solely the extermination of the Jews in Europe, it would discuss this side-by-side with the Palestinian Arabs’ flight/expulsion from their homeland.

The sudden change was not only absurd, it was dishonest.

You do not change, indeed invert, the rules of the game so deeply into it.

Despite this wholly unexpected and unwelcome move, I decided not to withdraw my essay, but expressed, in a long addendum, my complete disagreement with the idea of bringing together the Holocaust and the Arab defeat in 1948. It was, I more or less said, an outrageous idea, both intellectually and morally.

My contribution should not be used as an alibi by those responsible for this scandal.


The writer is professor emeritus of philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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