Israel Resource Review 23th June, 1998


New Revelations About the Auschwitz-Birkenau Sell-Out
by Avi Weiss

We now have in our hands the document that confirms our charge that Auschwitz-Birkenau is about to be sold out by Miles Lerman, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, in collaboration with the coalition of Jewish organizations he has drawn into his scheme.

The document is entitled, "Declaration Concerning Principles for Implementation of Program Oscwiecimski." Section 6 deals with the "Presence of Post-Period Elements," as follows: "Recognize as a paramount concern the delicate and sensitive problem created by the introduction of religious symbols in Auschwitz-Birkenau since its liberation in January, 1945. These symbols have created needless tensions in the past. Henceforth [italics added], there should be no introduction of post World War II elements on the site within the internationally-recognized UNESCO Protection Zones- including the introduction of religious symbols without the unanimous approval of the signatories. This prohibition does not include museological and educational elements."

The evidence is overwhelming. The word "henceforth" is the key. It legitimizes and lets stand forever the existing violations on the site, including the Birkenau church with a large cross on top and in front, as well as the eight meter cross alongside the old "convent." It undermines the UNESCO agreement, which declares that Auschwitz-Birkenau, as well as a 1000 meter protected zone around its perimeter, are to remain inviolate. The tactic of Section 6 is transparent: It is nothing less than to declare that with respect to the existing religious symbols and structures, the UNESCO agreement will be circumvented, and that the violations that are already in place on the site will be grandfathered into the impending agreement. Moreover, Section 6 undercuts the "Solemn Agreement" signed by four Catholic Cardinals and European Jewish leaders, declaring that "There shall be no permanent place of Catholic worship at Auschwitz-Birkenau."

This is an intolerable desecration of the largest Jewish graveyard on the planet. How dare Lerman and his associates allow crosses and churches to stand in this place of extreme Jewish martyrdom, forever distorting the truth about what took place there? While churches and crosses are places and emblems of holiness, they do not belong in Auschwitz-Birkenau. In Birkenau, the death factory of Auschwitz, approximately 95 percent of the victims--over 1.1 million human being--were Jews. There, the German commandant's headquarters has been turned into a church, and a huge cross casts its shadow over a camp marked by incalculable Jewish suffering. The impression left--and the impression that will be left for generations to come as a result of this deal-- is that this place of overwhelmingly Jewish death, with its barracks and gas chambers, is a place of Christian or perhaps universal martyrdom.

On top of this, Section 6 authorizes the introduction of "museological and educational elements," terms so vague and ambiguous as to essentially permit the introduction of anything, including the projected visitors center with a fast food restaurant to be built directly across from the gates of Auschwitz, corroding the dignity of the dead.

What adds to the horror of this looming sell-out is yet another recent revelation: That Lerman, the driving force behind this plan, has been operating in secret not only from the public at large, but also from those very Jewish organizations that he has pulled into the negotiations to cover himself when the Polish government invited him, as chairman of a federal agency, to participate in drafting a final agreement on Auschwitz-Birkenau. We have learned that in recent days some leaders of those organizations have grown increasingly alarmed that Lerman has not fully shared with them the specifics of the deal. They are beginning to question seriously whether they will be able to sign this document.

Their alarm has been further exacerbated by the recent withdrawal of Professors Robert Jan Van Pelt and Deborah Dwork from their Holocaust Museum sponsored commission to draw up a master plan for the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex. Professors Van Pelt and Dwork are the foremost experts on the development, architecture, physical and functional history of the Auschwitz- Birkenau death camp. Scholars of impeccable integrity, Professors Van Pelt and Dwork know where every building was and is on the site, and what each one was used for during the camp's killing operations. As they watched Lerman abandon the plan they had drawn up, as they watched Lerman lock out Jewish experts from the decision-making process leaving it solely to the Polish team, as they watched Lerman allow political expedience to take precedence over the preservation of the site, and as they watched Lerman's greater interest in signing the document regardless of its substance, Professors Von Pelt and Dwork dissociated themselves from the effort.

What Mr. Lerman must understand is that he heads a federal, not a Jewish, institution, and, as such, has no mandate or right to be negotiating the final status of the largest Jewish graveyard in the world. The federal government itself, and, in particular, members of congress, should be asking themselves--perhaps through a congressional investigation--what business Lerman has in these negotiations, and whether he is inappropriately using the museum's federal status to sign documents in the international arena when he has no legal authority to do so. The Polish government would likely never have been in these talks without the federal imprimatur that Lerman brings. Lerman, for his part, abuses his federal mandate, spends taxpayer dollars, sullies the good name of the United States, and plays fast and loose with the memory of the dead by dragging the museum into such deals.

And what Jewish leaders, including Abraham Foxman of the Anti Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Ernest Michel of the Lauder Foundation, and others must understand is that if they sign this document, they will forever be held accountable for having been complicit in violating the memory of the dead. Though they have ceded the lion's share of the effort to Lerman, if the outcome renders permanent churches, crosses, and the mockery of a fast food restaurant, it will be they--these Jewish leaders--who will be responsible. They will have been accomplices to this sell-out. Its consequences will be on their heads. Now they know the details of the deal. Now they know how Lerman has been co-opting them. Now they know the position that Professors Van Pelt and Dwork have taken. If they are so dazzled by high-level negotiations and the prospect of rubbing shoulders with celebrities at a gala signing (one prominent senator has informed us that he has already been invited to the signing ceremony in July), they should keep in mind, as a cautionary tale, the example of Jewish leaders who, more than fifty years ago, were so swept up by the glamor of the White House and an audience with the president, that they were pressured into remaining silent.

We, for our part, shall never remain silent. We shall not rest. In 1989, when we demonstrated at the "convent," there were those who may have disagreed with our tactics, but there was consensus that the nuns must move. Today, nearly a decade later, these same voices have been stilled. They have been compromised by Lerman's lust for a deal. They are in danger of becoming knowing accomplices in the betrayal of the six million. While we are loathe to speak out against other Jewish leaders, someone must speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. Even if the signing moves ahead this summer as expected, we shall never recognize the legitimacy of this agreement. We shall continue to fight it. We do not recognize the authority of Lerman and company to sign this deal. They do not speak for us, the living, and they do not speak for the dead.

Rabbi Avi Weiss is president of the Coalition for Jewish Concerns/Amcha and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute, Riverdale, New York. He is a long-time activist in Auschwitz-Birkenau preservation efforts. Tel: (718) 796-1135

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NGO's Under Tight Control, Jerusalem

The following are selections from articles which appeared in the Egyptian English weekly, "Al-Ahram" of Al-Ahram Weekly
[Opinion column]
"Soapbox -- Wasted time?"
by Gasser Abdel-Razeq,
executive director of the Centre for Human Rights Legal Aid
28th May - 3rd June, 1998

After many long years of struggle to replace Law 32 of 1964 on Associations and Private Institutions with a law permitting freedom of association, the result is probably the same law with a different number ... NGOs have had a simple request: to keep non-government organizations non-governmental. The government has replied by maintaining the conditions which subject non-governmental organisations to full government control.

A new draft law, prepared in secrecy, will assure government control over NGOs. New penalties of up to two years in prison and/or a fine LE10,000 are threatened for organizations that work as associations without being registered as such, or collect funds without government permission.

Many people believed that NGOs were the only available avenue of participation in public life. In the past few years, NGOs, particularly those working in the field of human rights, have played a major role in struggles for freedom, justice, and positive change. For example, human Rights groups supported journalists in their legitimate fight against Law 93 of 1995, and together managed to defeat it.

The right to freedom of association is guaranteed by the Constitution, which only restricts the right in cases of paramilitary or underground organisations, or those working against society.

While NGOs strive to widen the margins of democracy and help develop their country, the government promises prison sentences and large fines. Have these years been wasted for Egypt's NGO community? Or is the government about to waste another opportunity to allow peaceful and democratic expression?

Jerusalem Remembered
by Omayma Abdel-Latif
11th - 17th June, 1998
[Heading:] Marking the 31st Anniversary of its Occupation, Cairo Paid Homage to Jerusalem.

"Al-Quds is weeping; oh Quds: come back to us, to the good people. I shall come to you through any door and shall shout and the sky will hear my voice."

the lyric, written by Miriam Bakir, a 14 year-old Iraqi, bedecked a painting of the Dome of the Rock -- one of 50 paintings portraying life in Jerusalem.

The exhibition was part of a two-day even in the Cairo Opera House paying tribute to and remembering the holy city on the 31st anniversary of its 7 June 1967 occupation.

The event, titled "Jerusalem: past, present, and future" brought together more than 100 Egyptian and Palestinian intellectuals and artists. "We mark a conflict that has not been settled, an aggression that has never stopped, and a peace that, until now, has not been achieved," Gaber Asfour, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Culture, told the gathering.

Although the event was held under the slogan, "Jerusalem is Arab," participants opposed any discussion of politics. "Our case against Israel is not political because, theoretically speaking, agreements have been signed between the two parties," Yasser Abd-Rabbou, the Palestinian culture minister, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "Rather, it is the culture and art which unite Arabs and morally uplift the nation."

One step which will boost cultural cooperation and preserve the Palestinian identity is the establishment of the first Palestinian museum in Gaza. "Egypt has committed itself to establishing this museum to keep alive the memory of dispossession," [IMRA NOTE: including Egypt's 1948-1967 occupation?] Mohamed Ghoneim, first under-secretary at the Ministry of Culture, told the Weekly.

... Although participants vowed that politics would not play a part in the event, politics kept creeping in. There was criticism of the Arab political discourse on the city, with one speaker saying it had been confined to resolutions passed by Arab summit conferences that do not provide a strategy for regaining the city, whether by peaceful or military means.

... Bishop Akram Lamie, a professor of theology, dismissed rabbinical claims that the return of the Jews to Jerusalem was the realisation of a Divine promise. This, he said is an "abuse of religion" to achieve political and economic goals for the state of Israel.

Sohad Al-Qlibu, board member of the University of Jerusalem, warned that the Likud government "wants to cleanse Jerusalem of its Arab inhabitants." For the past 30 years, she said, Israel has prevented the construction of Arab housing in East Jerusalem. Arabs are being pushed out of the city ...."

[IMRA NOTE: The Arab population of Jerusalem has increased more rapidly than the Jewish population and Arafat's Mufti of Jerusalem has urgently appealed to Arabs to move into, to squat in, empty apartments in eastern Jerusalem.]

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PLC Representative Ahmad al-Batsh:
Focus is on Arafat
by Aaron Lerner

IMRA interviewed Jerusalem Fatah Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member, Ahmad Al-Batsh, in Hebrew, on June 15:

IMRA: Why is it so quiet in Jerusalem? First there was Ateret Cohanim and then Silwan and instead of thousands of Arabs rising up in protest there's almost no reaction.

Al-Batsh: There was the most important meeting today of the PLC on one topic - a no confidence vote against Arafat and all the people, the whole government, were there to see what would happen with the no confidence vote.

IMRA: And what happened?

Al-Batsh: Yasser Arafat sent a letter asking for ten days - to the 25th of the month for him to set up a new government. So all people were busy watching to see what would happen with the no confidence vote today.

IMRA: Is Arafat's problem with the PLC more how he runs the government or his relations with Israel?

Al-Batsh: Everything. First of all there is politics, economics, the security of the Palestinians. There are many things.

IMRA: In Israel people ask if there is an alternative to Netanyahu. Is there an alternative to Arafat? Someone who can take his place?

Al-Batsh: At this stage I don't think that one could take his place. This is something sensitive. It depends on the PLO, the Fatah Executive and the PLC.

Dr. Aaron Lerner,
Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
P.O.BOX 982 Kfar Sava
Tel: (+972-9) 760-4719
Fax: (+972-9) 741-1645

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Imra's Weekly Commentary on Arutz 7
18th June, 1998
by Aaron Lerner
(Broadcast in English on Thursday night's at 10:00 PM on 97.1 FM in Jerusalem, and 97.3 FM throughout Israel - recording available on

Much has been said about the impact on the ground of a 13 percent withdrawal: the isolated settlements, the creation of more safe havens for terrorists and, ultimately, the critical expansion of the areas which Arafat can try to include in a Palestinian state next May, at the end of the 5 year interim period.

All of these concerns are genuine and real. And yet, there are those who counsel that the withdrawal should be accepted as an inevitable fact and that instead of fighting the withdrawal, we should participate in trying to minimize the costs.

The irony is that months ago when Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the IDF to come up with a 13 percent withdrawal which would not hurt the settlements they came to the conclusion, after investing considerable time in the project, that it was impossible to carry out a 13 percent withdrawal without hurting the settlements. At the time I hoped that Netanyahu carried out the exercise so that he could prove to his critics that his objections to such a move were based on the cold hard unavoidable facts on the ground. Now I don't know.

And while I can assure you that if and when Netanyahu does announce a 13 percent withdrawal he will serve it with a healthy serving of misinformation, this won't protect him - and us - from one of the most serious consequences of such a move.

I have followed Netanyahu's technique from the front row seats of the Likud Central Committee meetings which he typically uses to launch major policy changes. The phony speech at the Cinerama after he returned from his first meeting with Arafat. The empty words about reciprocity at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Grounds before his cabinet approved the first withdrawal after Hebron. (That's right - many forget that after Hebron Netanyahu pushed through cabinet approval of a withdrawal without Palestinian compliance. The only reason the troops didn't move was that Arafat rejected it as too small.)

But all the canned music, all the party hacks, all the half truths and even temporary stock market surges, won't be able to change one critical effect of this capitulation: the loss of credibility in the eyes of Israel's supporters.

Since his election, a core of influential supporters in America - both columnists and politicians - have staked their professional reputations on the word of Binyamin Netanyahu. When he said "national security" they took it as the gospel truth. When Netanyahu said that a 13 percent withdrawal was simply impossible they wrote columns and made speeches and signed letters supporting his position and charging the Clinton Administration with endangering Israel's security.

When Netanyahu explained that Israel's insistence on Palestinian compliance was not a bargaining tactic but instead a genuine requirement for peace these friends of Israel spread the word in a way that Israel's own information program could never hope to.

Yes. A properly orchestrated domestic campaign with enough misinformation and disinformation can probably yield Netanyahu enough support to push a withdrawal through a public referendum. But none of this will stop that core of influential American supporters from turning their backs on Netanyahu. For while the domestic fog may comfort Netanyahu's coalition partners, these important supporters will know that they have been manipulated. That by accepting Netanyahu's claims at face value they themselves have damaged their own credibility.

It won't take long after such a withdrawal. A few weeks. At most a few months. And Netanyahu will find himself again having to explain to the world why the demand that Israel withdraw from "X" is unacceptable. How withdrawing from "X" compromises Israel's vital security interests. But those American columnists and legislators will think twice and three times before echoing Netanyahu's words. And without this critical support, Israel will find itself unable to offset Clinton's pressure with congressional support.

The withdrawal being debated today is not just another step down the Oslo path. It represents instead crossing what can be arguably called the last red line.

For once Netanyahu abandons what he has clearly and explicitly termed vital security interests, he will find it next to impossible to convince anyone that other security based territorial requirements - or for that matter any requirements - are genuine and non-negotiable.

Does Netanyahu realize this? I am sure he has been told this. But I don't know if he is listening. I can only hope, for our sakes and for the sakes of our children and future generations, that Binyamin Netanyahu has the sense and the will to look beyond the intrigues and machinations surrounding the interim withdrawal being considered today and soberly considers the potentially catastrophic costs which acquiescing on such a clearly stated security - based position would have in the not too distant future.

Dr. Aaron Lerner,
Director IMRA (Independent Media Review & Analysis)
P.O.BOX 982 Kfar Sava
Tel: (+972-9) 760-4719
Fax: (+972-9) 741-1645

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