Arabs riot on 'Nakba Day' (file)
Arabs riot on 'Nakba Day' (file)Flash 90

Right-wing groups, including Im Tirzu, are up in arms over an event planned to honor a new book published by the United Kibbutz Movement and the Jerusalem-based Van Leer Institute that conflates and equates the Holocaust with what Arabs term “the Nakba” - the decision by hundreds of thousands of Arabs to leave their homes during the War of Independence to make way for the Arab armies who promised to “throw the Jews into the sea.”

Instead of victoriously returning to a province occupied by seven Arab armies to divide the booty of 600,000 dead Jews, the “1948 Arabs,” as they call themselves, were resettled by Arab countries in refugee camps, prevented from becoming citizens or progressing economically or socially.

That experience, which the Arab world terms Nakba, is discussed in the new book, called The Holocaust and the Nakba: Memory, National Identity and Jewish-Arab Partnership.

According to the Van Leer Institute, which is holding an event in several weeks to introduce the book, the project “grew out of the meetings of a group of educators—Jewish and Palestinian citizens of Israel—who came together in 2008 at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute to consider jointly the Holocaust and the Nakba. The group’s wrenching experience in dealing with these charged topics led to a decision to try to discuss this issue analytically and critically."

Thus, the book proposes thinking about ways to remember the Holocaust and the Nakba together, to discuss them together in the Israeli context, and to examine the conditions that make this possible—not because they are identical or even similar events, but rather because both were traumatic and identity-forming. Both the Nakba and the Holocaust shaped the fate and the identity of two peoples, albeit each in a totally different way,” the Van Leer Institute said, with Jewish and Arab writers and philosophers “seeking to grapple with this issue.”

If grappling is what makes philosophers happy, that's their business, Im Tirzu said – but under no circumstances can the Nakba be equated with the Holocaust.

In a letter to Uzi Shavit, the head of the United Kibbutz Movement, Im Tirzu demanded that the organization remove its name as a publisher.

“As the official publishing house of the kibbutz movement, I wish to remind you that your movement is the home of those who fought bravely in the Warsaw Ghetto and established kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot in memory of those who fell in that battle. How can you place the Holocaust on the same level as the losses of the Arabs in our War of Independence? This is a shame you will never live down,” the letter said.

A similar letter was sent to the Van Leer Institute, although Professor Gavriel Motzkin, its director, rejected the criticism.

“At our event we will recommend that people consider both these events together. The book does not imply that the two events are of equal importance or similar. Their common denominator is that each was devastating for the respective nations that experienced them. This is exactly the kind of issue that should be discussed among Israelis in an open, democratic manner,” he added.