JERUSALEM, Aug. 14 (JTA) — For the second time in a week, the fervently Orthodox Shas Party has sparked a public outcry over remarks about the Holocaust.
Knesset member Shlomo Benizri was quoted by the Israeli daily Ma’ariv as claiming that the Zionist movement abandoned Europe’s religious Jews to perish at the hands of the Nazis.
“They preferred to bring another cow” for Kibbutz Ein Harod rather than save an observant Jew, he said.
Benizri later defended his remarks, saying they were based on research.
While he said he was not issuing a blanket accusation of the entire Zionist movement, he told Army Radio, “Don’t try to whitewash history. The nation should know there were foul-ups.”
Benizri also defended the party’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who came under widespread criticism in Israel and abroad after he said last week that Holocaust victims were the reincarnated souls of sinners. Yosef was also criticized by Arab officials for referring to the Palestinians as “snakes.”
Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s office called Benizri’s remarks “grave and unnecessary” and said they hurt the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust.
Professor Yehuda Bauer, a Holocaust researcher, said Benizri displayed ignorance about the period.
“I don’t know who knows more about the Holocaust — the cow from Ein Harod or Rabbi Benizri,” Bauer told Israel Radio. “This person hates Israel and the Jews.
“He is blaming the Jews for their murder, and not the Nazis. The Nazis did not differentiate between the Jews — they wanted to exterminate all of them.”
Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg accused Shas officials of using the Holocaust as fodder for their political squabbles.
“Making use of the Holocaust in the context of a domestic debate between rival groups cheapens both the memory of the Holocaust and the sanctity of its victims,” he said.