Ahmed Tibi is perhaps the Knesset’s most controversial member. Eloquent (in Hebrew), he is an unflinching critic of Israel’s occupation and its treatment of its Arab citizens and has frequently been the target of his fellow Knesset members.
In 2010, on the UN Holocaust Remembrance Day, he delivered a speech so brilliant and moving that even the right-wing Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin called it “one of the best speeches he has ever heard in the plenum” about the Holocaust.
Rivlin’s saying that is particularly noteworthy since, while always respecting the Holocaust and its meaning for Jews, Tibi did not back away from saying that racism is a growing problem in Israel today.
I provide the full text of Tibi’s speech below.
Fellow Knesset members, there is no more natural an occurrence than for the Knesset and all its factions to unite and mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the day of liberation for the Auschwitz extermination camp. The forces of evil sent tens of millions of people – Jews, Soviets, Poles, Gypsies, and political rivals – to an awful death. This wasn’t a simple death, but an industry of death, which was borne of an ideology of hate, racism, and ethnic cleansing.
This is the place and the time to cry out the cries of all of those who were and are no longer with us, the cries of those who have remained and who are struggling, justifiably so, to unburden themselves from the scenes of death and horror. I will once again repeat that I am full of empathy for the families of the victims of the Holocaust wherever they may be around the world, including those with whom I live on the same land, in the same country.
This is the moment in which every individual must relieve oneself of all of his nationalist or religious hats, relieve oneself of the otherness and wear just one robe: the robe of humanity. One must look at himself, look around him, and be human. Only human.
A well-oiled machine, which was founded on the claim of the justness of a nation and its supremacy over all civilian and humane values, trampled in its path the most cherished of all human values – the right of an entire nation to life.
Nazism, Mr. Speaker, sprouted there, in Europe. Michel Foucault once said that ideology is a product of the modern era. I would add that it is a product of the West, not the East. Indeed, Foucault was correct, but he erred in that his writings failed to place the moral blame on those who heard, saw, and kept quiet, those in leadership as well as in the general populace. The sad truth, Hannah Arendt once said, is that most evil deeds were done by those who never consciously decided to be good or evil. The banality of evil. That same evil is etched in our memory as epitomized by “the human head,” which is on display in a glass encasing at a Berlin museum. It is the head of a Jewish man, a head which was sent by a Nazi officer to his wife as an anniversary gift.
To those who are good people by nature, I say to you: An excess of power is very corrupting. Aggression, messianic nationalism, Fascism, and racism are the methods used to attract people on a massive scale in order to support a policy which in practice is intended to crush them, and to crush us all.
The liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp is a great victory for Ovadia. I will tell you the story of Ovadia, the protagonist of the movie “Yehi Zichrech Ahava” (Will you be remembered as love).
Ovadia Baruch and his wife Aliza Tzarfati. They were originally from the city of Thessaloniki. On July 11, 1942, the day known as “Black Saturday,” when 6,500 Jewish men were ordered to report to Liberty Square. There, they were abused and humiliated in public before being hauled away for a few months of forced labor in the outlying villages. On March 15, 1943, the first expulsion of the Jews of Thessaloniki was carried out. It was to Auschwitz. The Jews of Thessaloniki, Mr. Speaker, were forced to pay for the train tickets to Auschwitz out of their own pockets.
Ovadia was among them. According to his testimony, it was Dr. Mengele who performed the selection, and he was the only member of his family to be sent to the Auschwitz 1 prison. ‘When I arrived at the gate, they called me Ovadia Baruch. When I entered the gate, I became 109432.’
It was in the camp where he met Aliza. They fell in love. Aliza was then summoned by Dr. Mengele for an experiment. Fortunately for her, there was a Jewish doctor instead, a gynecologist named Dr. Samuel, who was on Mengele’s staff. ‘You’re the devil,’ Aliza screamed at the Jewish doctor. ‘Alizale, try to stay alive. One day, you’ll understand,’ the doctor said.
In 1945, Ovadia was sent on the death march to the Mauthausen camp. On May 5, 1945, Mauthausen was liberated. Ovadia kept searching and he could not believe that he had found Aliza Tzarfati once again in Greece. It was against all odds. He had asked for her hand in marriage, but she refused because of Mengele’s experiments. ‘We will not have children,’ Aliza said. He insisted. They were married in 1946.
One day, Aliza told her husband that her stomach had grown. She was pregnant. She had become aware, in retrospect, that the same Dr. Samuel whom she had called ‘the devil’ had intentionally sabotaged Mengele’s experiment, and that she was not harmed. The couple would go on to give birth to children. A few weeks after he saved Aliza, Dr. Samuel was caught by the Nazis and executed.
To this day Ovadia cannot manage to grasp how he, of all people, the son of simple laborers, was lucky enough to overcome the inferno and to survive. In the book ‘The Truce,’ by the Italian Primo Levi, he writes of his return home as if he were directly addressing Ovadia Baruch:
‘Were we returning richer or poorer, stronger or emptier? We did not know; but we knew that on the threshold of our homes, for good or ill, a trial awaited us, and we anticipated it with fear. We felt in our veins the poison of Auschwitz, flowing together with our thin blood; where should we find the strength to begin our lives again, to break down the barriers, the brushwood, which grows up spontaneously in absences, around every deserted house, every empty refuse? Soon, tomorrow, we should have to give battle against enemies still unknown, outside ourselves and inside; with what weapons, what energies, what will power? The months just past, although hard, of wandering on the margins of civilization now seemed to us like a truce, a parenthesis of unlimited availability, a providential but unrepeatable gift of fate.’
Mr. Speaker, there is nothing more foolish or amoral than Holocaust denial. For what purpose? What end is served exactly by those who do so? We are here in the era of realizing rights for self-determination and freedom, not dismantling states or peoples. People must stand courageously against instances of denial of the other, oppression of the other, denial of the Holocaust.
Racism must be confronted around the world, here and there, there and here. I, Ahmed Tibi, a tall, proud Arab, is happy to be on the same side as prominent Arab intellectuals who came out forcefully against Holocaust denial in the Middle East and other places around the world – men such as Mahmoud Darwish, Samih Al-Qassem, Elias Khoury, Edward Said, Elias Sanbar, and others.
This is the time to send a special greeting and encouragement to my colleague, Mohammed Barakeh, who is currently in Auschwitz. He was joined, as a guest of the UN and acting on explicit instructions of President Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian ambassador in Poland.
This is the place to declare that the Holocaust should not become a tool of a political, populist argument. It should not be commercialized, nor should it be ridiculed. The Holocaust, Mr. Speaker, is the most heinous crime against modern humanity, and Nazism is the coldest, most calculated instrument which led to this crime. Racism was the tie that bounded them together, the tie that bound the ends of this awful ideology.
Here and now we need to stand up and confront, with a loud voice, all instances of discrimination, racism, and the politics of hatred. Racism and hatred for anything that is different, including Arabs, have raised their heads here in Israeli society. Racism has long become ‘mainstream.’
Those who were victims of that horrible death, which is a byproduct of a malicious exercise of power – a destructive, absolute power – must be attentive to the cries of the bereaved mother whose home was destroyed and whose children were buried underneath it; to the pain and cries of a doctor who lost his daughters; to the victims of the other, even if the other is his victim, the victim’s victim.
The good must let their voices be heard, and not their deafening silence. Because from that time we will not just remember the misdeeds of the evil ones, but in particular the silence of the good. Lately I have not been able to find those benevolent ones who have lost the strength to utter courageous words in order to stand alongside the weak other. The oppressed and disenfranchised.
Mr. Speaker, Aldous Huxley, the famous British writer, once made a rare remark: ‘That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.’
The philosopher Viktor Frankl once said: ‘Since Auschwitz we know what man is capable of. And since Hiroshima we know what is at stake.’ This is the time and place to say no more weapons of mass destruction and to call on the region to rid itself of this awful weapon, to strengthen the hand of President Barack Obama in his call for supervision and control as a first step toward disarmament of the region and the entire world of weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. Speaker, once again, the fact that men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach. My fellow members of Knesset, distinguished guests, let us heed history so that we can build a different future and then to ensure that this crime will never be repeated.
I wanted to invite Ovadia here today, but I was told that he recently fell victim to an accident and is in poor health. May the parenthesis of unlimited availability, a providential but unrepeatable gift of fate that was given to Ovadia and Aliza be the lot of all mankind.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.