During a program billed as “honoring the victims of the Nazi Holocaust,” two Shoa survivors turned out to be the panelists most deeply critical of Israeli policy toward Palestinians and the very idea of Zionism.
“The Zionists have created a Holocaust religion,” said Hajo Meyer, a German-Dutch survivor of Auschwitz. “Zionism is contrary to Judaism, which must now be supplanted by a new religion or [the Israelis] couldn’t do what they do…. The ethics of Judaism have been supplanted by this religion.”
Meyer was a panelist at Never Again for Anyone, held Jan. 29 at Rutgers University and sponsored by various pro-Palestinian groups. Fewer than 200 people attended the panel discussion, while hundreds more pro-Israel demonstrators gathered outside the Douglass Campus Center in New Brunswick to protest the implied linkage between the Holocaust and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
In addition to Meyer and Hedy Epstein, the other Holocaust survivor, the panel included moderator Sara Kershnar, a coordinator of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network; Osama Abu-Irshaid of American Muslims for Palestine; and Dawud Assad, a survivor of the controversial 1948 battle of Deir Yassin, in which Jewish militias were accused of carrying out a massacre of Palestinian Arab villagers. The Jan. 29 event was held in conjunction with International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Meyer specifically drew comparisons between the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the treatment of Jews in concentration camps. He bolstered his presentation with visuals showing Israeli soldiers under a banner of Auschwitz and one accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of using the Holocaust to justify the “dispossession” of Palestinians.
Meyer, a member of the Dutch Green Left, told the audience the Judaism he grew up with as a child taught him to love others as yourself but was incompatible with Zionism. He has been barred from Holocaust remembrance functions by many survivor groups and has been labeled anti-Semitic by his detractors.
He also branded Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has been criticized even by some fellow Jews and Israelis for his views on Arabs, as “a big friend of Hitler.”
Abu-Irshaid, an Egyptian-born journalist and political essayist focusing on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs and American domestic policy toward the Arab world, said he believed Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all have the same value system.
He also rejected anti-Semitism, and in response to an audience question, stated that while some of the dehumanizing techniques employed by the Nazis against the Jews were now being used by Israelis against the Palestinians, he did not equate the Holocaust with the Mideast situation.
“Hitler deserved the punishment he got and his people deserved their punishment,” said Abu-Irshaid. “Now the descendants of the victims have become the oppressors…. Everyone has the God-given right to live.”
Yoshi Hsu, who described himself as a human rights activist attending the event, said he believed it was “very important” for people to hear what was being said “because there was injustice everywhere.” The program was sponsored by American Muslims for Palestine, the International Anti- Zionist Jewish Network, Middle East Children’s Alliance, and BAKA: Students United for Middle Eastern Justice, a Rutgers University student organization.
A BAKA representative who refused to give her name to a reporter claimed, “$6 million was given by the Jewish federations to disrupt these events.” The student said she was quoting the International Anti-Zionist Jewish Network.
(State Jewish federations announced last week a donation of $10,000 to Rutgers Hillel for pro- Israel activities on campus.)
She criticized the protestors for using “violent language” and said the organizers asked for extra security “because of their behavior.”
After the program, David Simen, one of about five pro-Israel adults who attended the program — in addition to about five identifiably pro-Israel students — said he was disheartened.
“The program was full of half-truths and lies that any ethical person would be upset about,” he said. “The saddest part is that the people on this panel seem to believe it.”
Joyce Leslie, also of Highland Park, left several minutes before the program ended, explaining she was doing so “because I am scared.”
“I am shocked about this willful hatred of Israel and this propaganda and misuse of history,” she added. “The Arab world was complicit in creating Arab refugees. There were no Palestinians until the 1970s. But I didn’t hear anything about that.”