BERLIN (JTA) — The head of a German fund established to compensate victims of forced labor under the Nazis says he regrets an "ambiguous project publication" supported by the fund containing illustrations that "could be seen as containing anti-Semitic stereotypes."
Martin Salm, director of the 11-year-old Memory, Responsibility and Future Fund, which also sponsors educational programs, said he was sure that the controversial illustrations in the HEAR student exchange publication were "not motivated by anti-Semitism." But Salm added in a statement that the foundation "cannot permit criticism of societal conditions to be used to delegitimize the State of Israel. We take the misunderstanding surrounding this project as an opportunity to examine our funding practice with regard to this program."
The student publication raised alarm bells after the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot broke the story last week.
The Future Fund was established after international pressure led German industry to join the government in compensating Nazi-era forced laborers of all backgrounds. The fund also is mandated to support international and domestic educational projects, most of them having to do with commemorating Nazi victims, promoting Jewish life in Europe and promoting human rights and understanding between nations.
It was under this mandate that the fund reportedly had provided more than $28,000 to the HEAR exchange program between students in Nazareth and former East Germany under the auspices of the Europeans for Peace program.
In the resulting booklet, illustrations purport to show differences in educational content offered to Israeli and Palestinian pupils. One depicts a "Jew" standing atop "Jew" history, holding a key to a padlock around "Palestine" history. In another illustration, two classrooms are juxtaposed: An apparently shiny new "Jewish School,"
with five smiling pupils, versus a crumbling "Palestine School" crammed with unhappy pupils.
According to reports, the Future Fund pressured Yediot and its sister publication, Ynet, to withdraw its story about the booklet, suggesting it was unfair. Salm later said in a statement that "he regretted deeply" that the illustrations produced by the teens were "seen as anti-Semitic from the Israeli point of view." While he said he recognized which images could be seen that way, he was sure "they are not motivated by anti-Semitism."
Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, told JTA she thought the incident provided an opportunity for the fund to review its procedures.
"They have taken a generic approach that has lost specificity to issues of major importance to this foundation," Berger said. "I do not believe that there is any malice or ill intent on the part of those organizing these programs, but it does not change the fact that the foundation is doing at the moment very little in terms of combating anti-Semitism, promoting a better understanding of Jewish life and advancing an understanding of modern Israel."