Relative of Raoul Wallenberg likens W. Bank to Syria

Grand-nephew of Swedish diplomat famous for rescuing 100,000 Jews during Holocaust visits Israel, says "silence in the face of evil is evil."

Toby Willig confronts Michael Vernstedt at Yad Vashem 370 (photo credit: Atara Beck)
Toby Willig confronts Michael Vernstedt at Yad Vashem 370
(photo credit: Atara Beck)
The grand-nephew of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat famous for having rescued close to 100,000 Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary, caused an uproar at a symposium at Yad Vashem yesterday when he seemingly equated Israel’s policies in the West Bank with the Assad regime’s suppression of the ongoing uprising in Syria.
“I must mention human rights violations in Syria and, being in Israel, human rights violations in the West Bank. Silence in the face of evil is evil,” said Michael Wernstedt at the symposium marking 100 years since the diplomat’s birth.
Over the past 15 months, more than 10,000 Syrians – including women and children – have been massacred, according to media reports.
In the break that followed, several people, including a number of Holocaust survivors, approached Wernstedt; most were upset by his remarks and wanted to debate the issue, although a few individuals congratulated him for his comments.
In a discussion with The Jerusalem Post, Wernstedt acknowledged that he has never visited Judea and Samaria and that his information comes primarily from three sources: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, the “Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.”
He said he expected that his comments might offend some among the audience, but he went ahead nonetheless.
“Just as I speak out against xenophobia in Sweden, I have to speak out here,” he said.
Prof. Dina Porat, chief historian at Yad Vashem, was the next speaker, and she slammed Wernstedt’s comparison of Syria and the West Bank within the context of human rights. The situation in Syria is “not a matter of human rights violations, but murder,” she asserted.
A Yad Vashem spokesperson said that Porat’s “response from the podium can be seen as our official response.”
Prof. Irwin Cotler, Canadian MP and former minister of justice, described Wallenberg as the “greatest humanitarian of the 20th century” in an eloquent talk on the topic titled “Raoul Wallenberg and his Humanitarian Legacy – What have we learned? What must we do? Cotler told the Post that Wernstedt’s statement constituted a “false moral equivalency” and was inappropriate.
Dr. Elihu D. Richter, founder of the Jerusalem Center for Genocide Prevention, said he agrees with the premise that silence in the face of evil is evil in and of itself, but he resented Wernstedt’s use of the term “evil” with regard to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
“Israel has had to address the challenges to human life and security from genocidal terror,” he said, noting the violence often perpetrated against Israeli citizens by Palestinians, who he said are encouraged by their leaders.
“The most basic human right is life itself, and genocidal terror is an assault on this most basic of rights, because without life there are no other human rights,” Richter said.
“Furthermore, incitement to terror itself is a violation of core human values and rights. Unfortunately, my colleagues and I have devoted too much of our time dealing with this misinformation propagated by Amnesty International, B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch.”
Historian Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, who attended the symposium, said, “To implicitly compare Israel’s self-defense policies to the actions of the Nazis is an insult to Yad Vashem and to the memory of Raoul Wallenberg.”