I wuz punked (or, what Jeremy Jones taught me)


Sometime in prehistory, I started out not as a journalist, but as an advocate. (Alert the settler police.)

I was something called a "research officer" at the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies in Sydney, Australia. A handful of staffers, the occasional intern and a pile of willing volunteers (Australians are great volunteers) duplicated in Sydney’s sunny streets and from thence into the outback the combined efforts of AIPAC, the AJC, the ADL and the JCPA.

I was just 23, but I had a great boss (and he was barely 25): Jeremy Jones, who was then the PR director and now has too many titles to list here. And the most important lesson he taught me was this: Never be as lazy as the other guy. Whether the "other guy" who has offended logic and Jewish sensibilities was a reporter, an advocate, an academic, a cartoonist, a poltiician, Jeremy made sure I knew that ice fights fire better than fire. Make your case with the facts, and make it with the cool and detachment you might have expected in a more civil society.

Now, I was born Canadian, I became an Israeli and I lived in Oz long enough to cultivate the inferiority complex common to smaller sisters: Of course, I presumed, these standards would be par for the course in the United States, and especially among the most important Jewish Diaspora.

I’ve lived here in Washington since 2000, and I should know better, but damned if I don’t still harbor that reflective deference.

Which was why yesterday I ran, without too much thought, the Simon Wiesenthal Center press release on Hamas, UNRWA and Holocaust teaching in the Gaza Strip.

I said in my post that I did not agree that the quotes SWC ascribed to two senior UNRWA staffers necessarily implied a pledge not teach the Holocaust in schools in Gaza. This was because I could barely extract meaning from the ellipses and the parentheses in the quotes (and I should have said that, that the quotes were almost meaningless.)

Turns out the quotes are much more problematic than I thought. Here’s the relevant paragraph, in which Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper inveigh against UNRWA for "refusing" to teach the Holocaust in its schools:

“UNRWA must not act as if it is a subsidiary of Hamas,” they said. “But Karen Abu Zayd, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, sounded very much like a Hamas official when she declared at a press conference, ‘I can refute allegations that the UN school curriculum includes anything about the Holocaust… we focus on human rights in curriculum…and the murder of six million Jews and five million other undesirables…is not a human rights issue.’ And John Ging, UNRWA’s Gaza Director, mocked UN policy when he said, ‘There is no intention to integrate materials and topics [on the Holocaust] that are inconsistent with the desire of Palestinian society.’”

I’ve called UNRWA and written SWC for further clarification; so far, nothing. But here’s what I’ve been able to track down.

Abu Zayd said the following, according to Ma’an, an independent Palestinian news cooperative:

“I can refute allegations that UN school curriculum includes anything about the Holocaust. Anyone can have a look at the school books. Really we focus on human rights in curriculum.”

She went on to say, “Last year was the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we found that the Palestinians were deprived of many rights.” The human rights curriculum also teaches some history, she said.

So that’s the first part of the SWC quote. But the part of "the murder of six million Jews and five other undesirables … is not a human rights issue" is simply untraceable. In fact, CNS, a conservative news service established to counter perceived "liberal bias" had this to say:

Although Ma’an ended the quote there, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC), a Jewish human rights group, Abu Zayd went on to say that “the murder of six million Jews and five million other undesirables … is not a human rights issue.”

The Ging quote at least exists — but is so removed from its original context to be beyond belief. It appears in a Google translation of a story on Ging’s meeting with a Hamas official on Pal Today, a news site that appears to have Hamas sympathies, quoting not Ging himself, but the Hamas official who met with him.

So let me lay this out: We have a computer generated translation of a Hamas official quoting Ging to a sympathetic news service. The translation, apparently, was generated by a right-wing blog, Elder of Zion.

And this is good enough for SWC.

So let’s review:

* There’s the quote from Ma’an, a news service I trust — except, in this case, Abu Zayd, a fluent English speaker, comes across somewhat mangled. (She keeps dropping her articles.) Conceivably, she was speaking Arabic; it would be good to hear exactly what she said (hence my phone call to UNRWA.)

What I suspect she said is what she told the Washington Post the other day:

There is currently no mention of the Holocaust in schools run by UNRWA in Gaza, according to Karen AbuZayd, the agency’s commissioner general.

UNRWA follows the curriculum set by local officials but has been supplementing it with lessons on human rights it developed on its own, according to an agency official. AbuZayd said a program on the details of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being developed for Gaza middle schools. Though still in draft form, the lesson "will go into some history," she said.

The Universal Declaration was issued by the United Nations in December 1948, in the aftermath of World War II and in recognition of Nazi atrocities.

"It is very much a draft," AbuZayd said, adding that before its introduction into classrooms, it would be circulated among community groups for reaction.

In other words, Abu Zayd appears to be into deep parsing territory here: We don’t have a Holocaust curriculum now, so Hamas should get off our backs already, but if unnamed "community groups" approve, it may yet get in. UNRWA’s "community" is the broader Palestinian refugee population, scattered through Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the West Bank as well as Gaza; that broader polity might well approve of the curriculum (for reasons I’ll explain below). In that case, UNRWA can shrug at Hamas and say "take it up with your Palestinian brothers."

* There’s the second part of the Abu Zayd quote about "Jews and other undesirables" that has no known provenance;

* There’s the Ging quote, which is so removed from its source, its like adducing Persian culture through Robin Williams voicing the Genie in Alladin.

Now don’t get me wrong: Abu Zayd’s parsing, as quoted in the Washington Post, is appalling. UNRWA is able, has been able, to tell Hamas, "Stop stealing our supplies, or we’ll f*** off and you’ll be stuck with a starving, angry mob." It should be able to tell Hamas, "Stop f***ing with our curriculum or we’ll f*** off and you’ll be stuck with a starving, angry mob."

Additionally, although we cannot reasonably infer what Ging told his Hamas interlocutor, there’s little doubt they actually met; What did they say? Where does UNRWA stand now on the curriculum? I await its call back.

But a major Jewish organization bungling this to such an extent — that’s appalling.

And it’s appalling precisely because the issue is so important.

The Ma’an correspondent, apparently and appropriately appalled by Hamas’ Holocaust denial, explains it this way:

Holocaust denial is not uncommon in Gaza’s refugee camps, where many feel marking legitimate Jewish suffering discounts the injustices done to Palestinians displaced from their homes in 1948.

The implication — that the denial is a result of suffering — is wrong-headed. Here’s how Palestinians normatively deal with the Holocaust: a) it happened in Europe, how did it become our problem and b) the very protections inscribed into the international canon in the wake of the Holocaust should now apply to the Palestinians. (There are, of course, counter-arguments to both positions, but this post is already running on forever.)

That’s why I think the Palestinian "community groups" will ultimately embrace the UNRWA curriculum — with he expectation that UNRWA teachers will spin the Holocaust into the Palestinian narrative.

That of course is problematic by itself –but it throws into relief exactly what Hamas is trying to accomplish here. It is not a perverse defense of Palestinian rights — these are repeatedly defended by the embrace of the Holocaust as history — it is the end of the Jews.

As in, our genocide.

Here’s an impromptu, probably inadequate analogy. Joe Hamas, living in squalor, has a rodent problem. He thinks his neighbor is responsible. He can a) sue his neighbor to pay to clear out the rodents; b) politely ask his neighbor to borrow that nifty but expensive new rodent killer that doesn’t harm anything but the rats; c) poison his neighbor’s children.

He chooses c, even though it means the rats still run free. I mean, kill the kids — who wouldn’t, right?

If Ma’an is right, and this view is pervasive in the refugee camps, the Palestinians in Gaza have a severe problem.

Making up stuff isn’t going to begin to help expose it.

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