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Mayor under fire for saying it was ‘easiest to despair, be killed in Holocaust’

Ramat Gan’s Carmel Shama-Hacohen goes on to remark at Remembrance Day ceremony that ‘the hardest part was surviving hardships and establishing a state’

Carmel Shama-Hacohen, mayor of Ramat Gan, attends a convention for newly elected mayors and local council heads, in Ashkelon, November 27, 2018. (Flash90)
Carmel Shama-Hacohen, mayor of Ramat Gan, attends a convention for newly elected mayors and local council heads, in Ashkelon, November 27, 2018. (Flash90)

Carmel Shama-Hacohen, mayor of Tel Aviv suburb Ramat Gan, caused outrage over his speech at a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on Wednesday evening.

In his speech, the text of which was uploaded later to Facebook, Shama said that “it was easiest to despair and to be killed during the Holocaust.”

He said that “the hardest part was surviving its hardships and then establishing a state.”

His comments led to angry responses on social media. Holocaust survivors and victims have at times been denigrated as going to their deaths like “lambs to slaughter,” despite the brutality they faced. Such a narrative was commonplace in the early years of the State of Israel; one textbook approved by the Education Ministry at the time read that “the heroic stand of the Ghetto Jews also compensated for the humiliating surrender of those led to the death camps” and that Holocaust victims had gone “as sheep to the slaughter.”

Shama-Hacohen’s comments reignited the controversy over such assertions.

“As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, it was a bit difficult and embarrassing to read the speech. With all due respect to you, it’s advisable to think twice about some statements,” one person wrote.

“The choice of words was unfortunate,” another wrote, while acknowledging the mayor’s good intentions.

A more blunt response demanded that the mayor “resign immediately.”

Following the angry responses, the Facebook post was edited to remove the controversial comment.

The mayor took to social media to respond to the outrage, apologizing but also defending his speech. He admitted that his choice of words was unfortunate, but insisted that he had not intended to say the Nazis’ victims had chosen to die. Rather, he said he had meant to highlight “the bleak odds of stateless and defenseless Jews in the face of the huge Nazi machine.”

He also said he’d meant to praise survivors, who could have very understandably despaired but “despite it all went on with active lives and a majority chose to immigrate [to Israel].”

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