Henk Zanoli, 91, is one of the “Righteous Gentiles,” those few heroic Europeans who risked their own lives to save Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. Recently, however, the Dutch pensioner returned the medal he received in 2011 to the Israeli embassy in The Hague, in protest against Israel’s conduct in the Gaza war–and specifically against an airstrike that killed several Palestinians to whom he was distantly related by marriage.’
The New York Times describes Zanoli as a “critic.” Yet there is much more than mere criticism in Zanoli’s odd gesture.
He could have spoken out against Israeli policies, and his status as a Righteous Gentile would have given his criticism unique weight in Israel. Instead, he chose to return the award he received for saving a Jewish child.
The implication is that doing so was a mistake–that Israel’s latest crimes, in effect, justify Nazi murder.
Along with the medal, Zanoli wrote a letter to the embassy, accusing the State of Israel of “murder,” apparently rejecting any notion that the deaths were accidental, or that Hamas might be to blame for starting the war and waging war from civilian areas. He included several other strange claims, such as that the founding of Israel meant “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians and that Israel was “racist” for building a state “exclusively for Jews.”
These are the tired, false staples of anti-Israel propaganda in the Arab world and the elite western salons of left-wing thought.
One is tempted to speculate about the influences to which Zanoli may have been exposed: the relentless anti-Israel bias of European media, perhaps–or, just as likely, the steady pressure of younger, Muslim members of his extended family who could not tolerate that their relative had once accepted an Israeli honor.
Regardless, Zanoli is wrong on the facts, and the fact that he would use the Holocaust to add weight to a hateful attack that denies the legitimacy of Israeli statehood is an insult to the victims of the Nazis, as well as to those who are suffering the constant terror of the Nazis’ would-be successors. If Zanoli had taken the time to study the Hamas charter, he would have found a hatred and madness equal to that of the Third Reich he once resisted.
The New York Times is evidently excited by Zanoli’s stunt: reporters Christopher F. Schuetze and Anne Barnard write that his act “crystallizes the moral debate over Israel’s military air and ground assault in the Gaza Strip, in which about 2,000 people, a majority of them civilians [sic], have been killed.”
In fact, Zanoli’s act sheds light on the sad state of mind of Europe and the Arab world, which can even poison the soul of a man such as he.
Photo: AFP/Gali Tibbon