Sunday, 16 August 2009

Open letter to Itamar Shapira

Dear Itamar,

I was moved, when I saw the news about you and Yad Vashem in April this year. According to the press, you were fired because you told a group of Yeshiva students about Deir Yassin and suggested to them that there are parallels between the Nakba and the Holocaust.

You were right, but I think Yad Vashem was also right to fire you. Certainly, the Holocaust's lessons would derive from historical study, including comparison with other genocides and related events, but that is beyond the purpose of Yad Vashem.

As a visitor to a museum and as a participant in a guided tour one has a right to be presented only with facts and documentation. I remember being upset, when visiting Yad Vashem the first time, about 40 years ago by a guide, who kept on commenting and interpreting, just as I was once by a tourist guide in Rome, who kept on comparing the Roman empire with Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Incidentally, I visited the new Yad Vashem in 2007 and was positively impressed by it (well, I had carefully avoided any guide).

Nonetheless, I feel strongly that you did the right thing. Being neither a Jew nor an Israeli, but with a strong affinity to your country, I believe that its future depends on people with your kind of courage. Israelis have to come to terms with what happened in 1948 and examine all that went wrong since then because of the blindness on both sides. Only on that basis would it be possible to discuss face to face with Palestinians the meaning of peace and justice.

For this, it would also be necessary to overcome the Israeli ambiguity about the Shoah. The history of Israel cannot be understood without knowing the Shoah. But that being said, Israel should make it clear that the nation is not built on the ashes of Auschwitz. Both because it isn't and because the insistence on remembrance of the Shoah as part of Israel's genesis is unhelpful to any peace process.

Itamar, it is of course intriguing that we have the same surname. I would not mind continuing correspondence with you, because I suspect, we share many ideas and would also disagree on some points.

Best wishes,

Basle, Switzerland 16 August 2009



Allan Schapira said...


(by email on 30 August 2009)

I don't perceive Yad Vashem as a place that should give you details and facts about the holocaust, nor does Yad Vashem perceive itself as such and therefore within Yad Vashem I guided "educational groups": schools, yeshivas, "Birthright" and others. Yad Vashem declaratively has educational weeks, sessions, to the IDF (army), youth movements, high schools and with bringing up questions of humanity, moral, remembrance, nationality, social justice. Yad Vashem plays a roll in fighting anti-semitism, holocaust denials, and genocides around the world. Moreover, Yad Vashem directed me to speak about the "independence war" which battle-fields lie in front of the exit of the museum; about Israel as a possible refuge for the Jews after the holocaust; about how do Israelis perceive the holocaust and about the well-implemented axis: "from Holocaust to Revival (the state of Israel).

To speak about these things without sparing a few sentences about the Palestinian/Arab point of view - is leaving the "educated" student incapable of understanding the complexity of the situation which the area is in these days, leaving him one option - a blaming finger to the Arabs (that didn't accept us in the region), Palestinian (for not saying "oh good that you came. we kept the place for you for 2000 years. We take our stuff and leave this place. You deserve it - you had the holocaust") and the "free world" that didn't do anything to stop it on time.
This the education that is stuffed into the brains of youngsters in Israel, from generations that grew into this victimhood and wars - disabling a whole society from seeing simple facts around them (like the occupation that we tend to forget or think we do it out of "SECURITY")
and becoming crueller and crueller.
Jews around the world and in Israel support massive killing in Gaza while accusing the German society for not kicking Hitler out in the 30's. By racist laws, discrimination and violence against Palestinians within us - we are beyond Nazi Germany before the war (only we don't have a one-strong-leader).
If Yad Vashem puts the quotation of Martin Niemöller - a German pastor: "When they came to take the Communists, I did not protest because I was not a Communist; When they came to take the Jews, I did not protest because I was not a Jew; When they........When they came to take me - there was no-one to protest" - high in the museum - it means that Yad Vashem motivates activist-thoughts about what should people do when they see injustice, growing hatred on basis of race, ethnos etc. The fact that they can only blame the "world" and never look inside - is because they are a full part of the brainwash system that sent me and hundreds of thousands to kill, control, demolish and bring a sacrifice to the gods of arm-trade.
Hope that pictures in a way my thoughts about the subject. Maybe it is worth adding that a professor from the academic board of Yad Vashem tried to raise the subject to be discussed with the other proffessors of Yad Vashem - she was ingnored a whole month and then answered: "no".
No will of anyone in Yad Vashem - nor the academic board neither the administration - to discuss a matter of the borders of politics in Yad Vashem, freedom of speech, formal attitude of the institution, borders of education and also not what I had exactly said in that specific tour - shows only fear and cover for something sensitive.
It is time to see the reality around us - professors are being fired for saying things in classes, researchers being threatened by the secret police when until not long ago they would touch only Arabs. And so on.
It is coming at us and can blow the whistle to a new war.
Yours, Itamar

BigMitch said...

You say you are not a Jew. I wonder. Were your parents? Grandparents? What exactly are you saying when you say you have a strong affinity for Israel, but you are not a Jew?

Mitch Schapira