Arab MK to visit Auschwitz

By Ben Lynfield, January 21, 2010
Barakeh: "Nothing will change my decision"

Barakeh: "Nothing will change my decision"

Israeli Arab legislator Mohammed Barakeh is under fire from Arab and Jewish hardliners for deciding to visit Auschwitz as part of a Knesset delegation on International Holocaust Remembrance Day next Wednesday.

But Mr Barakeh, from the hard-left Arab-Jewish Hadash party, is undeterred. “Nothing is going to change my decision.”

Mr Barakeh’s step has been called “courageous” by Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, who invited him.

The move could deal a blow to rampant Holocaust denial in the Arab world.

Inside Israel it is significant because some Israeli Arabs see remembrance of the Holocaust as being used to justify actions against Palestinians.

There is also anger among Arab citizens that their own national catastrophe — displacement during the 1948 war — is not recognised by Israeli Jews.

But Mr Barakeh takes a different approach. “How can we ask the Israelis to empathise with Palestinian suffering from the nakba [catastrophe of 1948] if we deny the suffering that befell the Jews,” he asked.

“As sons of the Palestinian people we need to be sensitive to the disaster that happened to humanity and the Jewish people during the Second World War.

“Every form of racism and persecution negates my values,” Mr Barakeh added.

Israeli Arab public opinion is divided over Mr Barakeh’s move. Abed Anabtawi, spokesman for a grouping including mayors and other public figures, said: “It is his right as a member of the Israeli parliament to act according to his ideology.”

But he added: “We as the Palestinian people and as Arab citizens of Israel are the victims of Zionism. One should not be disjointed from this fact at a time when the world has increased its criticism of Israeli policies following the war in Gaza” last year.

Jamal Zahalka, a member of Knesset from the Arab nationalist Balad party, went further. He said that while he supports visiting Auschwitz to remember victims of the Nazis, “the only problem is this is being done in the framework of an official Israeli delegation. His participation will be used by the Israeli establishment to support Israeli propaganda”.

However, another Arab Knesset colleague, Ahmed Tibi, is backing Mr Barakeh and says he too is ready to visit Auschwitz if that will take the heat off his colleague.

Meanwhile, some Jewish hardliners are irate that a virulent critic of Israeli policies will be part of the Israeli contingent.

Likud MK Danny Danon pointed out that Mr Barakeh last week voiced backing for the leader of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, right after the latter was convicted of assaulting a police officer. And he noted that Mr Barakeh himself faces similar charges of attacking a police officer, and has said he is proud of it.

“Is this the man the Knesset wants to represent it at such an important and sensitive ceremony?” he asked.

Mr Barakeh’s own preparations for the trip have not been entirely smooth. Last week, he stormed out of a lecture at Yad Vashem after the lecturer, according to Mr Barakeh, attacked Arabs and communists. Yad Vashem took issue with Mr Barakeh’s account.

Last updated: 3:54pm, January 21 2010