March of the Living produces torchbearers of truth in the Arab world

The Sharaka initiative seeks to tell the truth about the Holocaust and change hearts and minds.

Sharaka’s delegation of Arab participants at March of the Living in Poland. Credit: Courtesy of Sharaka.
Sharaka’s delegation of Arab participants at March of the Living in Poland. Credit: Courtesy of Sharaka.
Amit Deri
Amit Deri

Growing up as the grandchild of Moroccan immigrants to Israel, I would have never imagined the scene I witnessed this month: Moroccans comprising approximately half of an Arab delegation to the March of the Living on Yom HaShoah.

In fact, the delegation itself would have been unthinkable.

Yet it happened, mainly as a result of the power of the Abraham Accords to change hearts and minds in the Arab world.

A group of 22 Arab influencers—who, in addition to Morocco, came from Bahrain, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Algeria—arrived at the March eager to not only learn, but also experience firsthand the history and humanity that their nations denied them for so long.

Given my Moroccan Jewish heritage, it was with immense pride that I heard delegation members’ own pride as they recounted King Mohammed V’s refusal to deport Moroccan Jews to concentration camps, in defiance of the French Vichy government.

Fayçal Marjani, a researcher of history, geopolitics and the Jewish history of Morocco, called King Mohammed V a “hero.” He said he “cried like a child” at Auschwitz, and that through meeting Holocaust survivors on the march, he was motivated “to continue my activism by fighting against hatred and antisemitism.”

Mohammed Hatimi, a history professor at Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University in Fez, described the March as “an intense event that reinforces the conviction that I must do my best to teach about the Holocaust and to learn from it.”

These Arab scholars arrived in Auschwitz as part of Sharaka, a non-governmental initiative that I co-founded. Sharaka seeks to expand the impact of the Abraham Accords by transforming the vision of people-to-people peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors into a reality with the support of the Claims Conference.

Last year, Sharaka brought a pan-Arab delegation to the March of the Living for the first time. This year, our Arab delegation was part of a first-of-its-kind year-long program that promotes tolerance through Holocaust education.

The delegation’s experience with the Sharaka Tolerance Program has also included an extensive seminar at Yad Vashem. Now, in the aftermath of the March of the Living, they are set to launch follow-up projects in their home communities promoting pluralism, coexistence and Holocaust education.

For International Holocaust Remembrance Day this coming January, Sharaka will send joint delegations of Arabs and Jews to the U.S. to speak about their experiences with Holocaust education in light of the alarming gaps in Holocaust knowledge and awareness among young generations.

Claims Conference research has found that nearly two-thirds of American Millennials and members of Gen Z do not know that six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, more than one-third believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed and almost half cannot name a single concentration camp or ghetto.

The Arab delegation’s participation in the March of the Living sends a signal of immense hope that through symbolic acts and educational programs, even a relatively small group of Arab individuals have the capability to leverage their influence and shift the conversation in their societies around extremism, discrimination and antisemitism.

The best way to prevent hatred and atrocities is by learning from the past. In the case of Morocco, Arabs can also learn from what their country did right during the Holocaust. Yet they need channels for accessing that knowledge. Participants in the Sharaka Tolerance Program are well-positioned as torchbearers of truth in Morocco and other Arab societies. Their role is particularly important as a counterweight to the rampant Holocaust denial and minimization in the Arab world, including from media outlets such as Al Jazeera, which represent an impediment to peace.

“Never again” is arguably the best-known expression when it comes to Holocaust remembrance. But for Holocaust education to fulfill its fullest potential, it must do more than preach “never again” to the choir. It must do more than spread awareness among those who have gaps in their knowledge. It needs to reach the seemingly unreachable pupils and change their hearts and minds. By serving as de facto ambassadors for tolerance through Holocaust education in the Arab world, Sharaka’s marchers at Auschwitz are poised to accomplish just that.

Marjani affirmed the importance of helping Arabs understand that a genocide like the Holocaust “can occur in any country and against any race. We must build a healthy world for our future generations.”

Indeed, with the transformative messages of Holocaust education beginning to make an impact in the Arab world, there is hope for a brighter future.

Amit Deri is the chair and founder of Sharaka.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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