Fury over Israel ban at Shoah memorial

By Josh Jackman, December 11, 2014
Yanky Fachler

Yanky Fachler

Organisers of a national Holocaust memorial event have banned any mention of Israel.

The trustees of Holocaust Educational Trust Ireland (HETI) have instructed the host of the country's main Shoah memorial event in January "not to refer to the Jewish State or the State of Israel during any part of the ceremony".

The ban follows a similar bar imposed just days before this year's Holocaust Memorial Day in Ireland, when long-standing host Yanky Fachler was told to avoid mentioning Israel.

He reluctantly complied when his objections fell on deaf ears but, afterwards, complained in writing to the organising body, HETI - only to be told the rule will again apply at January's event at Dublin's Mansion House.

Six days later, Mr Fachler then received a letter from HETI chair Peter Cassells telling him he was being replaced after 12 years in the job.

Alan Shatter

Alan Shatter

Mr Fachler said: "Four days before HMD this year, Lynn Jackson of HETI gave me an ultimatum that I was not to mention Israel in my narrative as the MC. I felt like I'd been hit very hard in my stomach. I couldn't believe it. I was absolutely shocked.

"I was not going to pull out four days before the event but I said this was very wrong, very dangerous. I believe that it 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."

In the letter sacking the host, Mr Cassells wrote: "Earlier this year the Department [of Justice and Equality] asked us to review and refresh the commemoration. I am writing to let you know that, arising from the review, we will be engaging a new MC."

The Justice and Equality Minister at the time, Alan Shatter, confirmed that a meeting took place with HETI, but emphatically denied that he had asked for Mr Fachler to be removed from his position.

In a letter sent to Ms Jackson and Mr Cassells last week, the former minister said: "At no time was it suggested by me that Yanky, who is outstanding as MC, should cease to play a prominent role in the event.

"I am bemused how what was a constructive and friendly conversation so many months ago appears to have been misrepresented and used as the catalyst to end Yanky's involvement as MC." Speaking to the JC, Mr Shatter, who is Jewish, said the letters to Mr Fachler were "completely unacceptable", and condemned HETI's decision to ban future MCs from mentioning Israel.

"This could do profound damage to the organisation. I'm concerned 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.

"Many who attend the event from outside the community would be astonished by the approach."

Maurice Cohen, chairman of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, said: "This decision is both reprehensible and unacceptable to the wider Irish Jewish Community and is at complete variance with the stated aims and objectives of the trust. The community is horrified."

Mr Cohen confirmed that the event will still go ahead, with Irish president Michael Higgins once again in attendance.

The Israeli Embassy in Dublin said ambassador Boaz Modai would be attending HMD for a third consecutive year but that the rule change was "a gross disservice to the victims of the Shoah, to the survivors who found refuge in Israel."

Mr Cassells responded: "We want to reassure the Jewish community in Ireland that Israel will be referred to in Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations." He did not say whether the MC would be allowed to mention Israel.

Meanwhile in Newcastle, five Jewish members of the Holocaust Memorial Committee have quit over co-chair and local councillor Dipu Ahad's protests against Israel's actions in Gaza this summer.

Councillor Jackie Slesenger said: "I resigned. During the crisis in the summer, the chair held a die-in for Gaza on City Council premises. They were flying the Palestinian flag. He has to be impartial, fair and tolerant, and he was being none of these things."

Ms Slesenger said the event has been scaled down because of the controversy.

Mr Ahad, who has chaired the 12-person committee for three years, said: "My criticism in the summer was just against the Israeli government. We campaigned, but it's nothing against Jews or Israel as a state. It's sad how people have used that to withdraw from HMD.

"It offends me when people call me antisemitic. It makes you wonder if people are boycotting it because I'm a Muslim. I've never as chair raised the issue of Palestinians. Never."

Co-chair of the committee Lord Jeremy Beecham asked for calm over Mr Ahad's actions, writing in local newspaper the Journal that "to suggest he was motivated by 'racial intolerance' appears to imply that he is also guilty of antisemitism. That is simply wrong."

Rabbi Aaron Lipsy of the local United Hebrew Congregation denied it was a boycott, but said: "I've stepped away. I haven't made a final decision on whether I'm attending."

Olivia Marks-Woldman, chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, said: "Opposing Israeli government policies shouldn't disqualify somebody from being involved in commemorating HMD. However they must be careful to avoid their opposition descending into antisemitic and divisive discourse, and it would be wholly inappropriate to draw parallels between the Holocaust and the current situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories."

Last updated: 12:41pm, December 11 2014