How Do Holocaust Survivors Feel About Expelling Asylum Seekers? 'We Haven't Learned the Lessons of History'

The Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel says it's firmly against the deportation of African asylum seekers, while Yad Vashem stays silent

African migrants demonstrate against Israel's policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers, outside the Rwanda embassy on January 22, 2018 in the Israeli city of Herzliya.
meged gozani

Hello to former MK Colette Avital, chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. Nir Gontarz, journalist with Haaretz, here. How are you?

Very well. I usually read the humorous material. Tell me why you’re calling.

You read what?

Your column.

Do you like it?

Colette Avital.
Ronen Akerman

Yes. There are things I’m ready to laugh about – but the subject of Holocaust survivors is a bit weightier. Okay?

Listen, if you see only humor in the column, then I think you’re reading it wrong. But never mind. My family could have been 17 times larger if not for the Holocaust.

I hear you.

I’m calling you on a morning that’s been one big disappointment for me, because of Yad Vashem [the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem]. I understood this morning that they’re more of a political body than a museum. One after the other of the senior staff there, including Mr. Avner Shalev [the director], slammed the phone down on me when I asked to speak to them about the subject I’m now going to talk to you about. They are simply a political body. I asked them this morning to remove from their database the details I gave them in the past about my family.

It’s a body that’s funded – its leadership is funded – by the government.

Yes. In any case, my grandmother, who lost her family in Europe, instilled in me from an early age the conception that the lessons of the Holocaust are not just persecution of Jews and anti-Semitism, but also racism and

I identify with her.

not extending a hand to a persecuted refugee. Now our government is about to deport asylum seekers who fled from war zones in Africa, on the baseless claim that there is a demographic problem, which actually doesn’t exist. It’s racism per se: The fact is that no one is dealing with the thousands of undocumented white people in Israel. And whose voice is not being heard? That of Yad Vashem and of organizations of Holocaust survivors. Why?

Let’s go from the end to the beginning. You can definitely take into account that I, as chairwoman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, am ready to speak out everywhere, in a loud voice, as much as possible, [and say] that we as Holocaust survivors think it’s sad that we – precisely those who should have learned the lessons of our history – are behaving in this way toward a handful of people who are not endangering either Israel’s demography or its future. I tell you this as a human being and in the name of the Center of the Organization of Holocaust Survivors. It’s simply a lack of compassion.

You’re saying that the Holocaust survivors are against this expulsion.

African migrants demonstrate against Israel's policy to forcibly deport African refugees and asylum seekers, outside the Rwanda embassy on January 22, 2018 in the Israeli city of Herzliya.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

That is exactly the answer.

That moves me. I have goose bumps. Really.

That’s the answer, and it’s categorical and it’s firm. There isn’t the shadow of a doubt. We have not learned the lessons of history. People use the Holocaust for political manipulation, for political ends.

You say “people,” and I hear “Netanyahu.” He is the expert on this.

I don’t give it a name.

Alright. Can you understand why Yad Vashem is being silent?

I have no idea. I could ask them. Maybe they feel it’s outside their authority. I have no idea.

Fine, thanks for what you said. You’ve made me very glad.

I have received emails from people and organizations who want to organize a large meeting of Holocaust survivors on this subject.

I read this morning that there are pilots who intend to refuse to fly the asylum seekers out of here, and I read that there is an initiative of private individuals who will hide candidates for expulsion in their homes. I think that, even so

I want to tell you something.

Go ahead.

You are moving me deeply now. Okay? The fact that there are people who are willing to give refugees a home reminds me that we too sometimes benefited from such mercies. They risked their lives. We aren’t.

I think that their call, of the Holocaust survivors, to stop the expulsion – the more it resonates – will be very meaningful, and perhaps they have the power to stop this folly. I thank you very much.

Can we now talk completely off the record?

Sorry. Not possible.

Okay. Then no. Because this morning I talked about this subject with [Holocaust scholar] Prof. Yehuda Bauer, and I think that his voice is also meaningful on this issue.

Of course. Thank you.

See you. Bye bye.