Yad Vashem and the Israeli government gave him a “Righteous among the Nations” medal. And then Israeli forces went ahead and killed six members of his extended family in Gaza by bombing their home.
So he gave the medal back along with this heart-breaking letter explaining his reasons. He concludes by saying:
If your state would be willing and able to transform itself along the lines of that set out above and there would still be an interest at that time in granting an honor to my family for the actions of my mother during the second world war, be sure to contact me or my descendants.
For most, this would be the appropriate moment to reflect on whether Netanyahu and Likud are alienating Israel’s best friends. But that must be because you don’t have the mindset of our friends on the right and you’re not with us on everything, so you must be against us.
This is how various newspapers are covering the story:
The Economist does a really good job of summarizing the story:
HENK ZANOLI (pictured) is a 91-year-old retired Dutch lawyer whose personal history encapsulates the reasons why the Netherlands and Israel have had such friendly relations since the foundation of the Jewish state in the wake of the second world war. Mr Zanoli’s family was, as the Dutch put it, “right in the war”—i.e. members of the resistance. In 1943, Mr Zanoli escorted an 11-year-old Jewish boy from Amsterdam, Elchanan Pinto, back to the family home in the village of Eemnes, where he and his mother Johanna hid him for the rest of the war. (His father, Henk Senior, had already been sent to a concentration camp for his resistance activities; he would die at Mauthausen.) Mr Pinto subsequently emigrated to Israel. Three years ago, the Israeli Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem awarded its “Righteous Among the Nations” medal, given to non-Jews who rescued Jews from the Nazis, to Mr Zanoli and (posthumously) his mother.
On August 11th, Haaretz’s Amira Hass reports, Mr Zanoli sent Yad Vashem its medal back. Mr Zanoli’s great-niece, Angelique Eijpe, is a Dutch diplomat, deputy head of the country’s mission in Oman, and her husband, Ismail Zi’adah, is a Palestinian economist who was born in Gaza’s al-Bureij refugee camp. On July 20, the Zi’adah family house in al-Bureij was hit by an Israeli bomb, killing six members of the extended family, including the family matriarch, three of her sons, and a 12-year-old grandson. In an elegant and sorrowful letter to Israel’s ambassador in The Hague, Mr Zanoli explained that he could not in good conscience keep the Israeli medal.
Even the ultra-right-wing Settler Movement newspaper Arutz Sheva can’t spin this. This the best they can manage:
Zanoli apparently buys into the misnomer that Israel’s actions in Gaza violated international law, claiming that the operation has “already resulted in serious accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
It has not been confirmed, however, whether the deaths Zanoli’s relatives spoke of actually happened – as Hamas in Gaza has been shown again and again to falsify deaths for the media in order to win the “PR war” against Israel.
Of course, if you’re on the American right, this isn’t good enough.
There’s no need to pause and self-reflect. No reason to worry along with Zeev Sternhell that there is a collapse of Israeli democracy, and that the current atmosphere might mirror that of 1940s’ France. No reason to worry for Israeli democracy when senior members of the government openly call for apartheid and ethnically cleansing Gaza and the West Bank among other “solutions”.
There is definitely no need to recognize that the killing of over 400 children in three weeks or a 50 year occupation which tramples on Palestinian rights every day in ways big and small, which grants settlers impunity for stealing land and closes inquiries without actions years after soldiers have shoot children in the back might perhaps be losing Israel fast friends. No, of course not, that would be straying off message.
Here’s what Breitbart has to say:
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.
Of course Zanoli says no such thing, he says it burns his conscience to accept an honor from the Israeli state when “The great-great-grandchildren of my mother have lost their grandmother, three uncles, an aunt and a cousin at the hands of the Israeli army.”
But there’s no way the Frank Luntz patented talking points, beloved of Dick Cheney and Benjamin Netanyahu alike, would permit straightforward human decency to go unmolested. Since outright character assassination would probably play poorly, Breitbart tries another tack, maybe Zanoli is just senile, or just plain naive.
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.”
I guess all 430 children and the dozens of homes bombed while families were sleeping or having dinner are all “accidents”, sad, but excusable. It’s all Hamas’ fault though they’ve managed to kill a grand total of two Israelis civilians (and one Thai citizen) while the IDF has killed over a 1,000 civilians and over 400 children. It’s their fault, they made us drop the bombs on the kids, on families having dinner, we had no choice but to make a half million people homeless.
But why talk about consequences of actions when it’s so much more gratifying to speculate, so Breitbart continues:
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.
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.
The fact-free, outrage machine of American right-wing nuts would rather question the motives, intelligence and good will of a ninety year old who lost his father and brother-in-law to Nazi execution and concentration camps, and whose family sheltered a Jewish child. They would rather insult his intelligence and good-will than admit Likud/Shas/Netanyahu’s policies, which are a continuation of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon might be wrong.
“Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”