Holocaust survivor: Why I support Palestinian rights

| April 9, 2010
Suzanne Weiss speaking at a demonstration of 15,000 against Israel's assault of Gaza, 2008-2009.  Photo: Courtesy of Suzanne Weiss.

In Canada, Holocaust Memorial Day has been established by Heritage Canada to be on April 11. It is a good opportunity to review what we learn from the Holocaust experience and how we apply these lessons to the troubled situation in the Middle East.

This year, students in more than 60 cities took part in educational meetings on conditions in Palestine as part of Israeli Apartheid Week, held March 1-7. It is a controversial event, not popular in Canadian government circles. It is criticized for supposedly dishonouring the victims of Hitler's Holocaust.
I am a survivor of the Jewish Holocaust, the Nazis' mass murder of Europe's Jews. The tragic experience of my family and community under Hitler makes me alert to the suffering of other peoples denied their human rights today -- including the Palestinians.

True, Hitler's Holocaust was unique. The Palestinians are victims of ethnic cleansing and apartheid. Hitler started with that, but went on to extermination. In my family's city in Poland, Piotrkow, 99 per cent of the Jews perished.

Yet for me, the Israeli government's actions toward the Palestinians awaken horrific memories of my family's experiences under Hitlerism: the inhuman walls, the checkpoints, the daily humiliations, killings, diseases, the systematic deprivation. There's no escaping the fact that Israel has occupied the entire country of Palestine, and taken most of the land, while the Palestinians have been expelled, walled off, and deprived of human rights and human dignity.

Many levels of the Canadian government have recently been attacking the movement against Israeli apartheid, saying that it is anti-Jewish in character. This is bizarre. When Nelson Mandela opposed South African apartheid, was this anti-White? No, Mandela proposed that all South Africans, Whites included, join on a basis of democracy and equality in freeing the country from racial oppression. And that is precisely the proposal that the movement against Israeli apartheid makes to all inhabitants of Israel/Palestine.

We are told that Israeli Jews will never accept such a democratic solution. Why? Is there something wrong with their genes or their culture? The very notion is absurd -- in fact, its logic is anti-Jewish. Opposition to Israeli apartheid is based on hope -- a hope founded on the common humanity of the region's Jewish and Palestinian inhabitants.

Hope from Holocaust resistance

My family and their community in Piotrkow, Poland, suffered a hard fate under Hitler. The Nazis forced the city's 25,000 Jews into the first ghetto in occupied Poland. The resistance movement in the ghetto was unable to link up with resistance outside. Only a couple of hundred Piotrkow Jews escaped death.

But my mother and father then lived in Paris. They were active in the "Union des Juifs," a Jewish resistance organization closely linked to socialist parties and other anti-Nazi groups. When the Nazis started rounding up Jews in France, the Union des Juifs hid thousands of Jewish children among anti-Nazis across the country. My parents were killed. But a brave peasant family in Auvergne, at great risk, took me in and hid me. And that is why I am here today.

The Nazis were routed, and the resistance dealt blows to racism that are felt in France even to this day.

There is a lesson here for us today. Hitler seemed all-powerful at the time. But he could not crush the resistance, a broad people's alliance embracing many religions and many political viewpoints.

We need that kind of alliance in resisting oppression today -- including the oppression of the Palestinians.

Jewish values are not those of Israel's apartheid

The United Nations has defined apartheid as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them."

The apartheid concept was found in North America when indigenous peoples were confined to reservations in remote corners of the lands stolen from them. The South African Dutch settlers and Israeli government further developed the concept.

Eliminating Israeli apartheid involves three simple measures:
• The right of exiled Palestinians to return to their country.
• An end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
• The right of Palestinians within Israel to full equality.

On July 9, 2005, 170 Palestinian civil society organizations called for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the institutions of Israeli apartheid. The BDS movement helped to end the crime of South African apartheid. Since 2005, the BDS movement against Israeli apartheid movement has won wide support around the world.

Nelson Mandela, the great leader of BDS against South African Apartheid, said that justice for the Palestinians is "the greatest moral issue of the age."

Support from Jewish community

I recently discovered that my name is included in a website list of "7,000 self-hating Jews." Why are Jewish supporters of Palestine labelled as "self-hating"? Because those who make this charge have redefined Judaism in terms of the present policies and character of the Israeli state. They see Judaism as nothing more than a rationale for oppressing Palestinians. What an insult to Jewish religion and culture!

As for the 7,000 self-haters, the critics need to add a couple of zeros to that total. In my experience, support of Palestine is stronger in the Jewish population than in society as a whole. And Jewish people work alongside their Palestinian brothers and sisters as a strong component of the Palestine solidarity movement.

Holocaust Awareness Week is an appropriate time to review our proud history as Jewish universalists, welcoming and encompassing humanity. We, as Jewish supporters of the Palestinians, stand on the finest traditions of Judaism, its great contributions to human religion, philosophy, science, and solidarity through the ages. The rights we expect for the Jewish people, we demand for all humanity -- above all, for the Palestinians that the Israeli government oppresses in our name.

Suzanne Weiss is a Holocaust survivor and member of Not In Our Name: Jewish Voices Against Zionism and of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid.

 

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