Controversy erupts over German backed Holocaust-Nakba event planned at Jerusalem think-tank

Im Tirtzu and Holocaust survivor NGO criticize holding of event; NGO Monitor criticizes German backing; Van Leer director says need for “open public space.”

A memorial candle (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A memorial candle
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The right-wing Im Tirtzu organization and the liberal think tank known as the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute have exchanged letters over a planned institute promotion of a book that commemorates together the Holocaust and the Palestinian Nakba.
The book, titled The Holocaust and the Nakba: Memory, National Identity, and Jewish- Arab Partnership, is set to be promoted at the institute on September 7. The institute is also listed as one of two publishers of the book.
“The book invites the readers to think of ways to remember and discuss the Holocaust and the Nakba together, and investigate the possibility of such combined thought – not because the events are identical or even similar, but because they are both traumatic and identity- constructing,” stated the Van Leer website.
Im Tirtzu, which describes itself as a “pro-Israel grassroots movement,” responded to the announced program by sending a letter to Prof. Gabriel Motzkin, the institute’s director, demanding cancellation of this event.
Bar-Ilan University Prof. Gerald Steinberg, head of the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the fact that the German government funds the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation, which promotes the Palestinian campaign linking the Holocaust and the Nakba, is supporting the event, is “very disturbing.”
It highlights “the urgent need for a widespread Israeli discussion and guidelines on the role of foreign funds manipulation the public discourse,” he said.
“In my view, it was wrong for the Van Leer institute to have facilitated the Heinrich Boll Stiftung’s agenda in repeating the Palestinian campaign that draws parallels between the Holocaust and the Nakba,” argued Steinberg. “The blatant lack of sensitivity in this project requires a similar review regarding the limits of the organization’s role in Israel,” he said.
The Tel Aviv office of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung Foundation did not respond to a request for comment.
Segev Israel Afriat, CEO of the NGO Shorashim Shel Netina (Roots of Giving), which supports Holocaust survivors in Israel, wrote a letter on Tuesday to Motzkin, urging him to think twice about holding the event.
The event would be “the first nail in the coffin of the memory of the Holocaust,” said Afriat.
He said that he would be happy to refer him to “thousands of Holocaust survivors that would tell him how such an evening is a cancellation of our history.”
Matan Peleg, CEO of Im Tirtzu, told the Post on Monday that for many years there has been an effort in Israel by some to compare the Holocaust to the Nakba.
Questioned about the fact that the book contains a range of views, perhaps even an article that his organization would agree with, Peleg responded that there may be an article which serves as a fig leaf, but the main purpose of the book is to compare the two events.
There also is a cultural element, he said. “If you call for a transfer of Palestinians out of Israel, the public will scream at you. The Holocaust is a special event that cannot be compared to anything.
“We view with total shock and great concern the unimaginable comparison between the Holocaust of European Jewry, where millions of Jews were gassed, burned, and buried alive – and the defeat of Israel’s enemies in the War of Independence,” said Im Tirtzu’s letter.
“The defeat of the Arabs in the War of Independence was the outcome of a war launched by the Arab armies in an expression of their refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to its Homeland, whereas the Holocaust stemmed from abject hatred of Jews and a systematic mass-murder of millions of innocents,” it continued.
“We do, therefore, demand the immediate cancellation of the evening dedicated to the launching of a book making this shocking and unconscionable comparison.”
In response, Motzkin wrote a letter to Im Tirtzu stating that the edited book contains a range of views that will be represented at the event.
“We do not disagree with your right to oppose this kind of discussion and even be shocked by it, but we are horrified at the thought that we should limit the framework of the public discussion because of it,” he wrote.
Motzkin invited Im Tirtzu to read the book and attend the event and raise their arguments at this forum.
“An open public space is the lifeblood of a democratic and open society,” he said.