Irish back down in face of anger over decision not to mention Israel at Holocaust ceremony

Yad Vashem criticized "attempts to politicize Holocaust commemoration," says it "does a great disservice both to the victims and to education about the Holocaust.”

Flag of Ireland (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Flag of Ireland
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
An Irish Holocaust memorial organization has reaffirmed that Israel will be mentioned during a January commemoration ceremony in Dublin, following widespread outrage over the revelation of guidelines proscribing the event’s master of ceremonies from referring to the Jewish state.
In an October 7 letter that was subsequently obtained and published by the Israellycool website, Holocaust Education Trust Ireland (HETI) board chairman Peter Cassells stated that “it was decided in future, the MC of Holocaust Memorial Day will not refer to the Jewish state or the State of Israel during any part of the ceremony.”
Yanky Fachler, the longtime host of the event, to whom the letter was addressed, was recently informed that he was being terminated and that a new MC was to be retained.
Speaking with The Jewish Chronicle, Fachler stated that he had been given similar instructions prior to this year’s ceremony as well.
Such a decision “plays directly into the hands of everyone who doesn’t like Jews or Israel, and I find it very sad that apparently the two Jewish members of the board did this,” he said.
Alan Shatter, the Jewish former Irish justice and equality minister, came out strongly against both Fachler’s firing and the decision to place a moratorium on references to Israel. He told Cassells, in a letter quoted by the British newspaper, his decision was “completely unacceptable” and aired his concern that “board members of HETI have been influenced in how they’re approaching this issue by the hostility towards Israel in some sections of Irish public discourse and by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”
Jewish organizations were quick to pounce on Cassells and HETI, accusing the organization of playing politics with the memories of those murdered in the Holocaust.
Decoupling Israel and the Holocaust reflect “abysmal ignorance of the critical importance of the existence of the State of Israel, the lethal consequences for Jews that it did not exist during the Nazi era and Israel’s vital role in absorbing Holocaust survivors and providing them with a secure home after the Shoah,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Efraim Zuroff, a professional Nazi hunter, told The Jerusalem Post.
According to Zuroff, a “deep-seated and grossly unfair hatred of Israel” has to a large extent replaced “traditional anti-Semitism” in Ireland and throughout the European continent.
This trend, he asserted, has led to an “extremely worrying tendency to focus exclusively on dead Jews, while purposely ignoring the ongoing threats to their descendants, which stem from the very same anti-Semitism which led to the Holocaust.”
A similar message was delivered to Irish President Michael Higgins in a letter by the center’s Shimon Samuels, who warned that to exclude Israel from the memorial ceremony “is tantamount to Holocaust obfuscation and revisionism.”
Stephan Kramer, who stepped down as the secretary-general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany in January and now heads the American Jewish Committee’s European Office on Anti-Semitism, was even harsher in his condemnations.
“Turning Israel into something you are not supposed to mention, and concentration on the ‘good Jews,’ i.e., dead Jews, is an insult to the memory of Holocaust victims as well as to the entire Jewish people,” he charged.
“How can you ignore the fact that the absence of a Jewish state at that time – combined with the cold-hearted refusal of Mandatory Britain to let persecuted Jews enter Israel – magnified, in the final result, the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis? How can you ignore the fact that Israel is considered by most Jews in the world a guarantee that there will be no second genocide? How can you ignore the fact that the central Holocaust commemoration site – Yad Vashem – is in Israel?” he asked, calling on HETI to cancel the event rather than turn it into something anti-Semitic.
Charles Srebnik is a Holocaust survivor from Belgium now living in New York, who emailed to the Post by way of the Holocaust Survivors Foundation-USA to register his anger over HETI’s decision. “Hitler was able to murder my family and 6 million other Jews because no other country would take us in.... To exclude Israel from a Holocaust commemoration is to deny this truth, to deny history. It is a crime against the 6 million Jews who were murdered and those of us who survived,” he said.
In response to the public outcry, Cassells issued a press release backtracking on the policy and stating that he had “reassured the Jewish community in Ireland that Israel will be referred to in Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations.”
Cassells confirmed that Israeli Ambassador Boaz Moda’i would be present at the event.
Speaking with the Post on Sunday, the chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, Maurice Cohen, denied having received any such assurances from Cassells, despite having written to him directly over two weeks ago regarding the matter. He stated that HETI had placed a small item in a local newsletter addressing the issue, but nobody at his organization, which represents Ireland’s tiny community of perhaps 2,000 Jews, had been contacted directly.
It is hard to understand what motivated Cassells’s decision to ban the MC from mentioning Israel, Cohen said, adding that he is still waiting for clarification of the matter, and that in the meantime he is still planning on attending the commemoration.
However, he threatened, “if I don’t get an answer probably by close of business tomorrow or first thing Tuesday morning, I will probably publish my letter to them openly.”
“It is possible that if the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland don’t get a satisfactory response to the letter, they will be considering asking for those trustees that were involved in this decision to resign from the board of HETI,” he warned.
While condemning HETI’s decision, the Yad Vashem-Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority expressed cautious optimism over the organization’s decision to backtrack.
“The idea of preventing mention of the State of Israel at a ceremony commemorating the victims of the Holocaust, as had been reported in the media, is outrageous, and we are pleased to note the HETI statement that the Israeli ambassador will be speaking at the event,” said Estee Yaari, a spokeswoman for the authority.