Levana Zamir sees off Dr Shimon Samuels with a reminder that 50 percent of Israelis are Jews from Arab lands
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, whose mission is to fight antisemitism, faced questions last week at a B'nai B'rith symposium in Israel about its failure to include Jews from Arab countries in the UNESCO exhibition, People, Book, Land: the Jewish people's 3, 500 year-old relationship with the Holy Land.
Dr Shimon Samuels, director for International Relations, explained that the exhibition marked the first time since 1947 that a UN agency had recognised Israel as a Jewish state. It was an occasion to 'put our cards on the table'. He admitted that Wiesenthal had lost its fight to include the words 'Land of Israel' in the title. He blamed Arab-Israeli politics.
The exhibition, which Arab countries had tried to get cancelled altogether, was only one battle of many.
Of the failure to include a panel on Jews from Arab countries, however, Dr Samuels said nothing.
Levana Zamir, Justice for Jews from Arab countries (JJAC) representative and president of the association of Jews from Egypt, asked Dr Shimon Samuels why he had journeyed to Israel without expressing one word of regret to the 50 percent of Israeli citizens who are Jews from Arab countries.
Dr Samuels declared that he had worked for 25 years on the Holocaust, that he knew of JJAC's work and had been part of the (now defunct) World Organisation of Jews from Arab Countries (WOJAC). "There are many subjects,"he said." I cannot deal with all of them."
Dr Samuels' approach contrasted with that of the author of the exhibition, Professor Robert Wistrich. The historian gave a long and apologetic presentation. His work was subject to scrutiny from a 'surveillance committee'." It was clear that certain themes could not be accepted," he said," especially the plight of Jews from Arab countries after the creation of the state of Israel."
The panel on Jews from Arab countries was completely removed because of UNESCO's relationship with Arab countries, he said. All text had to be 'scientifically proven.' UNESCO asked that Professor Wistrich include a source reference to support a single sentence on emigration statistics from Arab lands. They also demanded proof that Andrei Gromyko, USSR foreign minister, had spoken of the link between the Jewish people and the land of Israel.
Professor Wistrich expressed his hope that the missing panel on Jews from Arab countries would be restored in exhibition venues with no association to UNESCO.
The UNESCO exhibition caused consternation among JJAC delegates who happened to attend its inauguration in Paris on 11 June. JJAC pledged to follow up on the absence of Jews from Arab lands from the exhibit with the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
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