For the first Research Forum session of the Summer semester, students got the chance to meet and hear from Asfahan Bahalul, an Arab-Israeli PhD student and educator at Yad Vashem. Bahalul is currently pursuing her PhD at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in which she is researching the representation of the Holocaust in Arabic-language newspapers in Israel. She also works at Yad Vashem to encourage visits from more Arab museum-goers, and acts as a bridge between the Israeli Jewish and Israeli Arab communities.
Bahalul began by describing her PhD dissertation, which is entitled “Between Al-Kartitha and Al-Holocaust.” “Al-Karitha” is Arabic for “the tragedy”, and while it is often used to describe the Holocaust, it does not specifically refer to it. She taught the class other Arabic terms often used to describe the Shoah: “mukraka” which means the crematory of the Jews and “Al-Holocaust” which is a term used when speaking with the rest of the world outside of their communities. Bahalul’s research is based on 3 Arabic newspapers in Israel over a span of 23 years. They are Al-Athad (of communist political orientation), Panorama (an independent commercial newspaper) and its companion website Panet, and Sot al-Haq U’al Hariya (literally meaning the voice of truth and liberty, and is religiously oriented). She analyzed the way the three newspapers referenced the Holocaust. The theoretical framework of her dissertation is based on three factors that shape the national and spatial identity of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians: the evolution of the national collective Palestinian identity, Holocaust commemoration in Israel, and the Arab discourse on Holocaust commemoration.
When a student asked how she could analyze such a large sampling of time, she responded by saying she chose significant events that would have either drawn lots of press or referenced the Holocaust, such as Yom HaShoah each year, the Oslo Accords, or the first and second Intifadas. One example she showed was from Ahmed Tibi’s, an Arab Kenneset member, visit to Auschwitz in November of 2010. Bahalul contrasted how each newspaper responded to this; Sot al-Haq U’al Hariya strongly criticized his actions, saying Auschwitz and the Holocaust wasn’t his narrative or the narrative of his people. Other newspapers took a more moderate approached. She also conducted interviews with Arab intellectuals, writers and newspaper owners, and cited interviews with Ahmed Tibi after his speech in the Knesset on Yom HaShoah.
Bahaloul found that each media outlet represented many different voices. The private, commercial newspapers were less likely to suggest any Holocaust denial or distortion, while the religious newspaper tended to condemn any actions by Arab leaders that would sympathize with Holocaust victims and survivors. They didn’t directly deny the Holocaust, but often quoted Holocaust deniers, such as Mahmoud Ahmendinijad, which Bahalul called “one step removed from denial.” Our student Sam Kunze asked about her interview subjects and their willingness to be interviewed. She said while they didn’t understand the reasoning behind her work, most cooperated. Many requested to remain anonymous. Another student then asked about her motivations for this research. Bahalul shared personal accounts with our group, and said that because of her Israeli Arab identity, she feels it’s crucial to understand the histories of both groups. She knows the Arab narrative, now she wants to learn the Israeli Jewish side. Bahalul stated when you understand another group’s culture and history, you learn more about your own. She referenced late scholar, Salaam Jubran, who created Holocaust education amongst Israeli Arabs. He felt that this was incredibly important, as the “historical process of establishing Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab peace obliges eliminating the stereotypes and historic distortions.”
This was a unique and thought-provoking Research Forum session, and a great opportunity for students to gain new perspectives on Holocaust research. In addition to Bahalul’s insight and forward thinking in breaking down barriers between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs, students also got a chance to learn more about the process of formulating and writing a thesis, which some of our students will be doing in the near future.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website:/