Dutch church leaders take back Holocaust-related reference to Palestinians

Jewish groups and Israel condemned the perceived analogy, which appeared in an account of the top clergymen’s visit to the Yad Vashem museum

File: Roses are symbolically placed on the railroad tracks at former concentration camp Westerbork, the Netherlands, remembering more than a hundred thousand Jews transported from Westerbork to Nazi death camps during WWII, on May 9, 2015. (Peter Dejong/AP)
File: Roses are symbolically placed on the railroad tracks at former concentration camp Westerbork, the Netherlands, remembering more than a hundred thousand Jews transported from Westerbork to Nazi death camps during WWII, on May 9, 2015. (Peter Dejong/AP)

Following an outcry, Dutch church leaders who recently visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem removed a reference to the perceived plight of Palestinians from the online account of their visit.

Responding to criticism by Dutch Jewish groups and many Christians of the perceived linkage, the Council of Churches in the Netherlands, which is the Kingdom’s largest Christian umbrella group, said Friday that the account of the November visit to Yad Vashem by five of its top members was not meant to equate Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with the Holocaust.

The Council has removed the controversial passage from the online version of the report about its visit, the Council said in a statement.

The initial report said that Yad Vashem had made the visitors think also of the plight of Christian Palestinians living in the West Bank today under what the document termed Israel’s “gruesome occupation.”

The summary, which was published recently on the Council’s website in a report that also featured an image of Anne Frank and a quote from her diary, has provoked multiple condemnations by Dutch Jewish groups and Christians, as well as Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs and Israel’s embassy in the Netherlands.

The critics accused the Council of trivializing the Holocaust to demonize Israel at a time when antisemitism seems to be growing in the Netherlands and beyond.

In the report about the November visit to Israel and the West Bank, the authors wrote that Yad Vashem “chronicles some pitch-black pages in our history,” adding that it made them wonder whether churches “should have been more resolute” in opposing the murder of Jews and whether Christian Dutch leaders specifically “closed their eyes to pure evil of antisemitism.”

But then the authors appeared to connect the Holocaust to the realities of life for some Palestinians today.

“The visit to Yad Vashem has another effect on us. We carry with us what we’d heard from Christian Palestinians and what we’ve seen: The walls, fences and checkpoints. Yad Vashem shows the incomparable evil and suffering of the Holocaust. We’re well aware of this. And still, in spite of ourselves, the images of segregation and ‘Forbidden for Jews’ make us associate them with what we’ve seen in recent days. The plea of Christian Palestinians echoes in our ears: Tell what you’ve seen!” reads the report, which, according to the Nederlands Dagblad daily, was written by Rene de Reuver, the general-secretary of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, a major constituent group in the Council of Churches.

Binyomin Jacobs, chief rabbi of the Inter-Provincial Chief Rabbinate in the Netherlands, called the Council’s reference to Palestinians “shocking, inappropriate, false and unexpected from friends who only recently acknowledged the failures of their own church to confront hatred [during the Holocaust].”

Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs. (Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP)

The Israeli embassy in the Netherlands in a statement said it was “shocked and disappointed” by the Council of Churches, whose reference to Yad Vashem illustrates “a lack of an adequate understanding” of the Holocaust in the Netherlands, the embassy wrote.

Christians for Israel, a pro-Israel international group that is based in the Netherlands, has also protested the Council of Churches’ language and called the revision of the text “too little, too late” and nothing but “damage control.”

Crowds gather while Jews are deported from Oud Beijerland, Netherlands, during the Holocaust (public domain)

Roger van Oordt, the former director of Christians for Israel, in a statement, said: “There needs to be a real change in the thinking of these church leaders so that they come to a good understanding of the unique position of Israel and the Jewish people.”

The Central Jewish Board of the Netherlands penned a sharp-worded letter to the Council of Churches, suggesting that “it may have been better not to have visited Yad Vashem at all than to visit and arrive at such ignominious comparisons.”

The Brussels-based European Jewish Association in a statement by its director, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, wrote that the Council of Churches’ remark may fall under the definition of antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

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