A Palestinian professor who took 27 college students to visit Auschwitz returned home to find that his fellow Palestinians had branded him a traitor.
The trip led to accusations of treason and brainwashing when an article about it was published in the Palestinian newspaper al-Quds. The university also dissociated itself from the trip.
Professor Mohammed S. Dajani said he expected “complaints” about the controversial field trip but not the ferocity with which he was met.
“I believe a trip like this, for an organized group of Palestinian youth going to visit Auschwitz, is not only rare, but a first,” Dajani told the Washington Post. “I thought there would be some complaints, then it would be forgotten.”
The Al-Quds University professor led the trip to the concentration camp during fraught U.S.-moderated peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Rumors circulated that the trip was paid for by Jewish organizations when it was, in fact, sponsored by the German government.
Dajani said he wished to correct his students’ perceptions of the Holocaust, as many Palestinians believe that the Holocaust is exaggerated or used as propaganda by Jews and Israelis.
“They said, ‘Why go to Poland? Why not teach our young people about the Nakba?’ ” Dajani said, referring to the “catastrophe” of the 1948 war between Arabs and Israelis, which led to the creation of the state of Israel.
The professor co-authored a New York Times op-ed in 2011, titled “Why Palestinians Should Learn About the Holocaust.”
“One of the sad realities of many modern Arab societies is that Arab students have been denied history, their own and the world’s,” Dajani wrote with Robert Satloff, a Jewish-American historian. “This is particularly true of the Holocaust.”
Others have stood up for Dajani in the midst of the controversy.
“He is a theologian and a pragmatist, and in that regard, he is unique here. He is also extremely brave,” said Matthew Kalman, a commentator at the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz who broke the Auschwitz trip story.