The chairman of Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust museum, has ignited a controversy in Israel with recent comments, as reported by JTA, that "television footage showing some Hebron Jews harassing their Arab neighbors reminded him of the anti-Semites he encountered in pre-war Europe." Haaretz reports that Tommy Lapid's remarks came after Mr. Lapid saw footage of a Hebron woman hissing insults at her Palestinian neighbor and settler children lobbing rocks at Arab homes.
Lapid, a Holocaust survivor who lost his father to the Nazi genocide, said in a weekly commentary on Israel Radio that the acts of some Hebron settlers reminded him of persecution endured by Jews in his native Yugoslavia on the eve of World War Two.
"It was not crematoria or pogroms that made our life in the diaspora bitter before they began to kill us, but persecution, harassment, stone-throwing, damage to livelihood, intimidation, spitting and scorn," Lapid said.
"I was afraid to go to school, because of the little anti-Semites who used to lay in ambush on the way and beat us up. How is that different from a Palestinian child in Hebron?"
Lapid, a former justice minister in the Israeli government, first made his remarks in an opinion piece last week in the Jerusalem Post.
When we decide, and rightly so, to never under any circumstances compare the behavior of Jews to that of Nazis, we are forgetting that anti-Semitism only reached its height at Auschwitz. It had existed, was active, frightening, harmful and disgusting - exactly like [Yifat] Alkobi's [a Jewish woman seen the television footage mentioned above] image - in the years that preceded Auschwitz too. And behind shuttered windows hid terrified Jewish women, exactly like the Arab woman of the Abu-Isha family in Hebron.
It is unthinkable that the memory of Auschwitz should serve as a pretext to ignore the fact that living here among us are Jews that behave toward Palestinians exactly the way that German, Hungarian, Polish and other anti-Semites behaved toward Jews.
Hebron has long been a problem spot. Four hundred "heavily guarded" Israeli settlers live surrounded by 120,000 Palestinians. Over the years, both sides have committed atrocities. A Hebron community spokesman says that 37 Israelis have been killed there in six years, Haaretz reports. In 1994, a settler named Dr. Baruch Goldstein enterned the Muslim side of Patriarch's Tomb and killed 29 Palestinians.
Reuters reports that settlers in Hebron reacted angrily to Lapid's comments, which officials at Yad Vashem said did not represent official policy.
"The man is obviously a very, very sick person, to compare the Jews in Hebron to barbarians and compare us to the Nazis," David Wilder, a spokesman for the settlers in Hebron, said in response to Lapid.
Arutz Sheva reports that Aryeh Eldad, a conservative National Union party member in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, also blasted Lapid's remarks.
"It cannot be that the head of the Yad Vashem [Council] would compare a small neighbors' dispute to the Nazi persecution of Jews," Eldad said. "He long ago proved, when he was in politics, his hatred for minority groups, and he should be fired immediately. Yad Vashem should condemn him for his words that sully the memory of the holy Holocaust victims."
In an news analysis in the Jerusalem Post, Anshel Pfeffer writes that the truth is that the situation in Hebron representes the worst of both sides.
The settlers huddled around the Cave of the Patriarchs believe that they are bravely clinging on to Abraham's purchase on behalf of the rest of his children while facing the murderous terrorists who make up most of Hebron's Arabs.
The Palestinians, and with them most of the Israeli and international media, see the Jewish community as 600 racists intent on ethnically cleansing the 120,000 local inhabitants. There is no potential middle-ground, no place for compromise, no relative moderates prepared to criticize violence and call for an accommodation.
Haaretz reported last Monday that Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh of the Labor Party said that "The laws are not being enforced sufficiently and promptly in Hebron, especially with regard to Israeli settlers." Later in the week, 150 Israeli Peace Now protestors and a similar number of right-wing activisits confronted each other in Hebron over the incident shown in the TV footage.