Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, has launched a new effort to educate the country’s Arab minority about the Holocaust by offering seminars to Arab teachers. During the 20-hour course, the first of which began last month, participants heard survivor testimonies and learned about the Holocaust from its beginnings in Germany. For the first course, some 150 educators elected to participate.
“We have succeeded to have opened a window — not a door,” said Dorit Novak, chief educator at Yad Vashem. “We have to open the door and start this dialogue.” And while some of the Arab teachers try to compare the Holocaust to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Novak said she hoped the course would demonstrate the Holocaust’s differences, as it was an attempt to exterminate an entire people.
Palestinian students visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
In Israel, studying the Holocaust is mandatory in schools, even for Israel’s 1.4 million Arabs. Nevertheless, according to an annual University of Haifa survey published last year, more than 40 percent of Israeli Arabs claim the Holocaust never happened. “To the Arabs, the Holocaust is a legitimization of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. If you say there was no Holocaust, you’re protesting this [Israel’s existence],” according to Sammy Smooha, who conducted the survey.
Yad Vashem’s program certainly faces tough roads ahead, and many doubt its chance of success. But it has the potential to help Israeli-Arabs further understand their Jewish neighbors. And that, above all, is a cause worth working toward.