The Israeli 'History' Museum That's Fuzzy on Historic Details

Nir Gontarz speaks with Ilan Scolnik, from the Friends of Zion Museum, which 'tells the story of people who love and support the State of Israel.' So what if parts of the story didn't actually happen.

Moti Milrod

Hi there, Ilan Scolnik. This is Nir Gontarz, from Haaretz newspaper. How are you?

Hi, shalom, yes. You have my full attention.

Can you tell me a little about the museum?

The museum tells the story of the non-Jewish people who contributed to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people over the past 200 years. We take the concept of Righteous Among the Nations [from Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial] and expand it to almost 200 years. We are talking about people like Queen Victoria, Oskar Schindler and [Orde] Wingate, who contributed much to the State of Israel and to the Zionist enterprise. Shimon Peres is our international chairman of the board. Our board also includes [former IDF chief of staff] Dan Halutz, [former Justice Minister] Yaakov Neeman, [singer] Kobi Ashrat, [former head of the Northern Command] Yossi Peled and many others. We operate in 16 languages and present the story that is based on a concept that is based on [the biblical] “Hineini”: “Here am I.” We want everyone who visits the museum to receive Zionism, to support the Jewish people, support Israel. Both Israelis and tourists. More than 40,000 people have visited already [the museum opened in July 2015]. We’ve been written up on Ynet [website of the mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth], and we even got a write-up in The Jerusalem Post.

Wonderful. Tell me, who funds you? It’s expensive to maintain a museum.

We are a nonprofit. We have 7,000 donors from around the world. We are based on support. We have eight million friends to whom we are connected at an almost everyday level. The goal is to reach 10 million by the end of the year.

Wow.

We are trying to fight against boycotts, against BDS and against anti-Semitism in the world.

Very nice.

We do it by bringing people here, and our whole content is also on the internet. We host tens of thousands or millions via our site. You can do the whole tour on the site in three dimensions. On iPhone, too.

Very nice. Tell me, who is Mike Evans?

He wrote a book about the history of Christian Zionism.

He’s a Christian evangelist, right?

He is an evangelist. He wrote the book on whose content the museum is based.

You sound knowledgeable about the milieu. The Christian evangelists are connected to the Israeli right wing, yes?

Uhmmm, I think that by their nature they are ardent supporters of Israel. In their faith.

The Jabotinsky Institute in Israel Archives

What do you mean? Supporters of Greater Israel?

Weuh We don’t use those terms in the museum. Our map in the museum is a biblical map.

Of Greater Israel.

It’s precisely so as not to get into those questions.

Evans is a friend of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, right?

He knows him. He’s met him a few times. He’s a friend of a great many administration people. [MK Yair] Lapid was here in the museum. We host a great many political figures.

Great. Tell me, Lt. Col. John Patterson was commander of the Zion Mule Corps in World War I, right?

Yes.

You have an animated image of him in the museum. And your animated image of him relates that he met Benjamin Netanyahu as a boy.

Yes.

And that Netanyahu was a “sharp one” as a boy.

Yes.

The problem is that Patterson died two years before the “sharp one” was born.

Right.

If you’re a museum that’s faithful to history and the historical truth, how can you invent Patterson meeting Netanyahu and even forming the impression that he was “sharp”? Just to flatter the leader?

He did not meet Netanyahu and we are aware of that. George Bush is also presented

Then why do you have Patterson mention an invented meeting with the “sharp” kid?

Mmmm I don’t really understand the question. We are telling the story here from

But it’s not the true story.

He [Patterson] adds, “Of course no one knew then what Benjamin would turn out to be.” He also says he met Yoni Netanyahu and didn’t know he would become a hero at Entebbe.

All the Netanyahus together. Lovely. So, if I come to the museum and view the animated figures, I have to take it all with a grain of salt. You made up “historical” details. As a museum, you are not faithful to the truth.

We are telling the story of the people who supported the State of Israel and the Jewish people.

And making up details that are historically impossible.

Mmmm I don’t really have an answer to that question But you can treat me respectfully and also the museum, which tells a story about people who love and support the State of Israel.

But you made up part of the stories. That’s fantasy, not history.

Patterson didn’t support the Jewish people?

He didn’t meet Netanyahu, who was born after Patterson died, and for that reason could not have formed the impression that Benjamin Netanyahu was a “sharp one” as a boy.

He couldn’t have known that Netanyahu would be prime minister, either. It’s as though I would sum up our whole conversation by saying, “Someone from Haaretz called me and asked how it’s possible to treat you seriously.”

That really is what I’m asking.

But this is not the way

With all respect, I saw a report in Yedioth Ahronoth about this invention of yours, I called to find out, and I am asking legitimate questions. Again: If the lieutenant colonel’s animated image in the display says he met Netanyahu, which is impossible historically, that means you are making things up and that’s how you have to be treated.

If you find the words, “I met Netanyahu,” then show me.

Here’s the quote from Yedioth Ahronoth. Patterson says, “When the world war came along, more than 5,000 young men signed up to serve under the flag of the Star of David. That’s when I became good friends of Benzion and Cela Netanyahu. They asked me to be godfather to their son, Yonatan they even named him after me. His younger brother Benjamin was a sharp one.”

“And who could have known that Benjamin would become prime minister someday”

Terrific. But the bottom line, if to believe the museum, is that this Patterson met Benjamin Netanyahu and even thought he was a “sharp one.” You just made that up. He never met him. And I am asking how you can be treated seriously. It’s a simple question. Are you exhibiting history, or inventing the history you would like?

The story we are presenting is about how the person would have seen things even after he died.

But he supposedly met little Benjamin while he was alive. I really can’t understand this. Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I will be happy to send you the details of the people who deal with the media.

I’ll pass on that, you’ve explained yourself. Thank you.

Thank you.