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Controversial ‘Shoah, Nakba’ event at German institute in Tel Aviv cancelled

Goethe-Institut’s panel had earlier been postponed after an outcry that event was being held on anniversary of Kristallnacht

Palestinian and Israeli residents of the coastal city of Jaffa near Tel Aviv, hold a banner as they take part in a rally on May 15, 2021, as Palestinians mark the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948 (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
Palestinian and Israeli residents of the coastal city of Jaffa near Tel Aviv, hold a banner as they take part in a rally on May 15, 2021, as Palestinians mark the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba, the "catastrophe" of Israel's creation in 1948 (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial said Friday that after talks were held with the Goethe Institut, the German cultural institute had decided to altogether cancel a controversial planned event that was accused of drawing an equivalence between the Holocaust to the Palestinian Naqba.

Earlier in the week, the Goethe-Institut Israel postponed an event, “Grasping the Pain of the Others – Panel Discussion on the Holocaust, Nakba and German Remembrance Culture,” which had been set to take place in Tel Aviv on Wednesday evening — the 84th anniversary of Kristallnacht.

The institute apologized only for the timing of the event and postponed it until Sunday. However, it now appears to be off completely.

“Earlier today, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan spoke at length with the Secretary-General of the Worldwide Goethe Institute Mr. Johannes Ebert. At the end of their in-depth conversation, Ebert assured Dayan that the event planned for this coming Sunday will not take place,” Yad Vashem said Friday.

On Tuesday, the institute defended the event amid anger in Israel and Germany.

“The remembrance of the Shoah and the commemoration of the victims is a major concern of the Goethe-Institut, to which we devote ourselves in numerous projects,” the institute said in a German-language statement. “We regret that the choice of date for a panel discussion has currently caused irritation.”

“The Goethe-Institut stands for understanding and dialogue,” the statement continued, “That is what the planned discussion is about.”

The Goethe-Institut is the cultural arm of Germany and is intended to facilitate cultural exchanges around the globe.

The institute did not address criticism of the equivalency drawn between the Holocaust and the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the name Palestinians and many Israeli Arabs use for the Arab defeat in the 1948 Israeli Independence War, which led to the establishment of the Jewish state.

The Foreign Ministry had earlier in the day blasted “the blatant cheapening of Holocaust and the cynical and manipulative attempt to create a linkage whose entire purpose is to defame Israel,” by discussing the Shoah and the Nakba in the same breath.

Yad Vashem’s Dayan called the event itself an “intolerable distortion of the Holocaust.”

The logo of the Goethe-Institut, at the German cultural association’s facility in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

After the postponement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nachshon was no less harsh in his reaction: “Our position is that the event is an utter disgrace, and it is not appropriate to hold it on any day of the year, not just the anniversary of Kristallnacht.”

In an interview with 103FM Radio, Israeli Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor called the postponed event “an attempt to make an inappropriate comparison at the expense of Holocaust survivors.”

“If it wasn’t ironic it would be tragic,” he said. “This must not become an accepted discourse under the pretense of ‘holding a civilized discussion.’ It’s not.”

Prosor also slammed the Goethe-Institut for postponing the event rather than canceling it. “They don’t seem to understand the issue. There isn’t a date on the calendar suitable for such a spectacle of insensitivity and hypocrisy by the institute,” he said.

Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, took place on November 9, 1938, when Nazi forces and German civilians attacked synagogues and Jewish businesses, likely killing hundreds.

“We must not allow foreign cultural and educational policies to support attempts to link commemoration of the Holocaust and the Nakba,” tweeted German lawmaker Frank Muller-Rosentritt. “That this is planned by @goetheinstitut in Israel on November 9 of all days is a scandal.”

German Nazis and civilians watch the ransacking of Jewish property during Kristallnacht, most likely in the town of Fuerth, Germany, on Nov. 10, 1938. (Yad Vashem via AP)

The panel, organized in conjunction with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s Israel office, features two Israeli academics and German journalist Charlotte Wiedemann.

Wiedemann has advocated that Germans “understand the Nakba in a broader sense as part of German history and give their story space in the culture of remembrance. There is no need to agree on the extent to which the founding of the state of Israel was also an act of settler colonialism.”

Tobias Siegal contributed to this report.

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