A senior official of Israel’s central Holocaust memorial on Saturday assailed Jewish settlers who harass Palestinians in a tinderbox West Bank city, saying the abuse recalled the anti-Semitism of 1930s Europe.
The attack by Yosef Lapid, chairman of Yad Vashem’s advisory council, was prompted by Israeli television footage showing a Hebron settler woman hissing “whore” at a Palestinian neighbour and settler children lobbing rocks at Arab homes.
The spectacle stirred outrage in the Jewish state, where many view the settlers as opposing coexistence with a future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
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, reiterating remarks made earlier this week in Israel’s Maariv newspaper .
“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?”
Estee Yaari, a spokeswoman for Yad Vashem, said the organisation did not stand by the comments of Lapid, who spoke in his capacity as a radio commentator.
“Lapid was not speaking on behalf of Yad Vashem but as a private person,” Yaari said.
Hebron has been a frequent flashpoint of more than six years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting. Some 400 settlers live there, under heavy Israeli military guard, among 150,000 Palestinians.
“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.
Another community spokesman, Noam Arnon, said 37 Jews had been killed in the Hebron area in the past six years.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered a cabinet-level probe last week into Palestinian allegations that abuse by Hebron settlers is commonplace and routinely ignored by Israel.
Hebron Governor Afif Jabari said:” If they are serious about coexistence, the Israelis must take practical steps on the hundreds of daily violations against Palestinians in the old city.”
Lapid, a former Israeli justice minister, appeared to agree.
“We Jewish citizens of Israel wave a reprimanding finger at most. Worse still, I tolerated this silently as justice minister too,” Lapid said.
The World Court has branded the settlements illegal but many Jews claim a biblical birthright to the West Bank, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war.
Lapid said while there was no comparing the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews died, with Palestinian suffering from Israel’s policies, this did not mean Israelis could not be culpable.
“It is inconceivable for the memory of Auschwitz to warrant ignoring the fact that there are Jews among us who behave today towards Palestinians just like German, Hungarian, Polish and other anti-Semites behaved towards Jews,” he said.