An author, historical archivist, and curator employed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has encouraged readers to contribute to an organization that has repeatedly published comparisons of Israel to the Nazis.
Dr. Rebecca Erbelding recently authored “Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe.” The book focuses on a small US government agency, the War Refugee Board, that helped Jews in the final months of the Holocaust, and somewhat controversially credits then-president Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the board’s achievements.
In a tweet on June 10, Erbelding offered to send a free copy of the book to anyone who contributes $50 or more to the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) or two other charities. The AFSC, a Quaker organization, has promoted claims that Israel’s policies are similar to those of the Hitler regime.
The tweet appeared on Erbelding’s private twitter account. However, she has become a spokesperson for the Holocaust museum following the launch of its new exhibit, “Americans and the Holocaust,” which she co-curated.
The museum noted in a statement that Erbelding’s tweet was on her private account, and stressed that no such private tweets reflect the museum’s positions. It also said that “any comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany are categorically false and historically inaccurate.”
Erbelding told The Times of Israel that she chose to support AFSC because of the Quakers’ significant effort to help Jews escaping Nazi Europe.
“I disagree with modern-day comparisons to Nazi Germany, Hitler or the Holocaust, including any attempt to portray Israel as committing genocide against Palestinians. This is untrue, and comparisons are inaccurate,” she told The Times of Israel in an email.
“I included the AFSC in the list of organizations [along with the Hispanic Foundation and the International Rescue Committee] to which a Twitter follower could donate in exchange for a copy of ‘Rescue Board’ because the Quakers operated the largest American non-Jewish effort to assist Jews escaping the Holocaust,” she said. “One of the main characters in my book, Roswell McClelland, was an AFSC aid worker.”
She added a reminder that her “opinions and posts — particularly on my social media — are mine, and not those of my employer.”
In 2000, the AFSC co-sponsored a US speaking tour by Jeff Halper, head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), during which he compared Israeli zoning regulations to the Nazis’ Nuremberg Laws. The AFSC currently employs at least one former staffer from the ICAHD, and, subsequent to the tour, nominated Halper for a Nobel Peace Prize.
The AFSC website includes numerous articles written by staffers or volunteers making Israel-Nazi analogies. In one, the Committee’s director of public policy and advocacy, Aura Kanegis, says she can understand how the residents of “occupied Palestine” feel.
“My family on my dad’s side are Lithuanian Jews [and] they too knew desperation and death at the hands of people who had decided their very existence was a threat,” Kanegis explains.
An article on the website by Lucy Duncan, director of Friends Relations for the AFSC, includes a statement that Israel is guilty of “barbaric, savage, and unjustified genocide.”
During the 2014 Gaza war, the AFSC’s Government Relations Manager, Raed Jarrar, promoted a petition calling the war “genocide by Israel.”
The AFSC’s new general secretary, Ramallah-native Joyce Ajlouny, has accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing.” That term appears in a number of articles on the AFSC website. At least one article on the site charges Israel with “organized mass murder.”
The standard definition of ethnic cleansing is “the mass expulsion or killing of members of an unwanted ethnic or religious group in a society.” The Times of Israel emailed Ajlouny, asking whether she believes Israel is engaged in mass expulsion or mass murder, but received no reply.
Erbelding was asked if she was aware of AFSC’s comparison of Israel to the Nazis when she announced her fundraising initiative and, if not, whether she intends to continue raising money for the organization now that she knows about it.
Erbelding replied: “I would not characterize that Twitter post as a ‘fundraising initiative’ or anything in which I could ‘intend to continue raising money for them.’ It was a quick Twitter post, meant to promote my book and perhaps send a few dollars to aid Puerto Rico and refugee advocacy. No one has taken me up on it, so the post has not resulted in any money going to the AFSC.”
Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, said the fact that the Quakers helped Jewish refugees in the 1930s is not relevant to the organization’s current activities.
“By way of analogy, the Soviets fought against the Nazis in World War II,” Medoff said, “but that doesn’t mean it would have made sense to raise money for the Soviet regime in the 1970s, when it was supporting the Arab war against Israel, persecuting Soviet Jews and, incidentally, comparing Israel to the Nazis.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of the Global Social Action Agenda of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Times of Israel, “The false and horrific comparison of Israel, its leaders and soldiers [to the Nazis] traces back to Soviet Union propaganda, especially after Israel’s stunning defeat of Arabs in the 1967 Six Day War.”
“It is incomprehensible that anyone associated with teaching the world about the Shoah (Holocaust) would embrace and promote such a screed that insults the past and endangers 6 million-plus live Jews in Israel,” said Cooper.
In its statement, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said: “Any comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany are categorically false and historically inaccurate.” It noted that “Dr. Erbelding’s Tweet offering signed copies of her book — which was published in her personal capacity and not by the Museum — was made on her private Twitter account which does not represent her employer.” It added: “No privately expressed opinion of any Museum employee reflects the Museum’s position.”