Thursday, May 5, 2011

Holocaust Education in the Arab Public

Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu wrote a thought provoking article in  Ha'aretz regarding Arab attitudes to the Holocaust:

In advance of the coming school year, the Education Ministry has decided that the matriculation exam in history in the Arabic-language school system will include a mandatory question about the Holocaust, and that it will be worth 24 points − almost a quarter of the maximum score.This decision came in the wake of the state comptroller’s report on the subject of Holocaust education in the various population sectors, and the “grave results” of a survey on “Holocaust denial” among Israel’s Arab citizens. That survey, which was conducted four years ago, found that about 40 percent of Arabs polled said that “the Holocaust didn’t happen at all.” 
Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu continues, by arguing that since Holocaust education has been mandatory in Israel for Arabs for years, it stands to reason that the poll results need to be explained. His explanation is:

In a correct reading of the situation of Arab citizens, the “denial” of the Holocaust should not be understood as a lack of knowledge of the subject or as a failure to recognize its importance for the Jewish people, but as simple defiance: “If you don’t recognize us and our pain, we will retaliate by not recognizing your pain.” Paradoxically, the painful use of “denial” by the Arabs polled in the survey actually implies recognition of the Holocaust and of the depth of the pain it represents for the Jews.

Normblog (higly recommended) has the following critique:

This argument confuses the motive with the act. Denying that something is the case doesn't cease to be denial because one knows that it is the case, or because one has a motive for the denial distinct from mere ignorance. Indeed, the implication that other cases of Holocaust denial (than that under discussion here) are based on not knowing about what happened to the Jews of Europe is highly questionable. Some Holocaust deniers probably don't know the core facts; but it's likely that many also do know them. Their denial is motivated by hatred and a desire to diminish and wound. To suggest that Holocaust denial is standardly based on genuine ignorance is to fail to understand the dynamics of a form of deliberate racism 

In my opinion Normblog slightly missed the point. Amnon Sulitzeanu justification of the Arab refusal to acknoweldge the holocaust wasn't really about right or wrong (Though Normblog is correct in reading the subtext), just an explanation of the motavation. More fundementally he was arguing that there is no gain to be had by mandating a Holocaust question on a public that (supposedly) already knows the truth.  

The idea however that Arabs feel that denying the Holocaust is a defiant act is intriguing if somewhat unnerving. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps the more universal side of the holocaust should be taught to Israeli Arabs - i.e. the holocaust not only as a Jewish story but also as a universal moral warning. This isn't from much sympathy to the Arab narrative - but rather out of a feeling that it is better to teach them something about the holocaust that they will learn, then teach them a viewpoint that they are sure to reject.

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