How Jews were deceived again at Auschwitz

The words missing from the statements of the Islamic delegation that visited Auschwitz and why we should realize that it is nothing more than a public relations stunt.

Rafael Castro

OpEds Auschwitz

Jews and Christians were moved by images of high-ranking Muslim clerics recently paying tribute to Holocaust victims at Auschwitz. The fact was that this Islamic delegation was headed by the secretary general of the Muslim World League, Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, bearing witness to the readiness of Arab Islam to finally acknowledge Jewish suffering at the hands of the Nazis. Jews involved in Jewish-Arab diplomacy and Jewish-Islamic dialogue heralded the visit as a crucial step towards genuine peace and reconciliation between Muslims and Jews.

Israeli media were mesmerized by the visit. These sentiments were echoed by international outlets like the New York Times and the BBC which displayed utmost reverence and gratitude towards the Islamic delegation. The visit thus provided leading Islamic clerics with positive media coverage they sorely need.

Yet did this visit also expose Arab public opinion to the scale of Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people?

Thanks to internet this question can be answered from outside the Arab world. One striking finding of a Google search in Arabic with terms associated to “Muslim delegation to Auschwitz” is the fact this news appears in few Arabic-language Saudi websites. In Saudi websites that did run this news, such as the online edition of the prestigious as-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, the delegation’s visit is described as follows:

“Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League, Chairman of the Council of Muslim Scholars, heads a high-level delegation of Islamic scholars from various streams, accompanied by religious leaders of different religions to visit the site of the genocide in Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the genocide camp In Auschwitz, Poland, as part of an international tour of a number of sites that witnessed injustice and persecution, to emphasize the condemnation of these heinous crimes without excluding any of them.

"The visit of the Islamic delegation to those places confirms the values of Islam, and that Muslims condemn every criminal act, whatever its source, regardless of damage and impact, and this position will be expressed by a large group of Islamic leaders and scholars making these visits. This will confirm the Islamic position that upholds not only high and pure values, but also expresses the justice of Islam towards everyone. Islam is a religion of mercy and fairness and is against all evil practices. This position is not limited to the Islamic world only, but includes everyone, rendering the justice and mercy of Islam universal.

"The Muslim World League, with a large number of senior Muslim scholars, participated in various efforts to explain the justice of Islam and its positions, in several visits, meetings, initiatives and declarations, leading others to express their confidence in the values of Islam and creating a positive image of Islam and Muslims facing all forms of extremism and radicalization.” (Author’s translation of

In other words, Auschwitz where over 1.1 million people were murdered plays second fiddle to Srebrenica where exactly 8,372 people were murdered. Furthermore, no mention is made of the Holocaust, of Jews and of Judaism. Neither does the item express sympathy or solidarity towards the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Yet the closing paragraphs of the article make it clear that a key goal of the visit is to showcase Islam as a “religion of mercy and fairness” and to promote a “positive image of Islam and Muslims”. 

David Harris, the Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee made a serious strategic blunder. Had he escorted the Islamic delegation discreetly and away from the prying eyes of journalists, he could have used Auschwitz to genuinely touch the hearts and minds of his Muslim guests. Yet by trumpeting this visit to Western reporters he became an accomplice to a PR stunt - even though Auschwitz should no longer be a place where Jews are deceived.

Instead of hosting Islamist delegations whose political and ideological agendas are at best dubious, the American Jewish Committee should have honored a Muslim figure like Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, who lost his teaching position at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem for having accompanied his students to Auschwitz. Professor Dajani believes that both Arabs and Jews should understand the historical narrative of the other side. The Wasatia Peace Movement he founded promotes dialogue and peace between Arabs and Zionism.

Building bridges between Muslims and Jews is a pressing task in our times. However, there are no shortcuts. To believe both sides can be brought closer by PR stunts and self-promoters is not just naïve - it is immoral.