A bit less righteous: The moral fall of Yad Vashem medal winner Henk Zanoli

In August, multiple British media outlets (including The Economist, Independent and The Telegraph) covered the story of a Yad Vashem Righteous Gentile, Henk Zanoli, 91, who returned his award after the IDF – during Operation Protective Edge – bombed the house of his relative (Ismail Ziadah, who married Henk Zanoli’s father’s great niece) who lived in Gaza, killing six.

Henk Zanoli

Zanoli returned the prestigious medal, awarded to him and his mother for helping to hide a Jewish boy during the Nazi occupation of Holland, and wrote a letter addressed to the Israeli ambassador explaining his decision.
In his letter, Zanoli expressed his belief that Zionism is an inherently racist endeavor.

After the horror of the Holocaust my family strongly supported the Jewish people also with regard to their aspirations to build a national home

Over more than six decades I have however slowly come to realize that the Zionist project had from its beginning a racist element in it in aspiring to build a state exclusively for Jews

He then accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing, and suggests that only the establishment of one-state, to replace Zionism, can get the Jews out of the “quagmire” they’ve gotten themselves into:

As a consequence, ethnic cleansing took place at the time of the establishment of your state and your state continues to suppress the Palestinian people on the West Bank and in Gaza who live under Israeli occupation since 1967. The actions of your state in Gaza these days have already resulted in serious accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity…The only way out of the quagmire the Jewish people of Israel have gotten themselves into is by granting all living under the control of the State of Israel the same political rights and social and economic rights and opportunities.

The Independent, The Telegraph and The Economist – the latter of which used the opportunity to warn of Israel deteriorating moral legitimacy in the eyes of ‘civilized’ Europeans –  all failed to note even the possibility that Palestinian terrorists may have been targeted in the IDF attack which killed Zanoli’s relatives.
Though the popular blogger Elder of Ziyon already noted that a non-family member in the house at the time was actually an Al Qassam Brigades terrorist, Elder just uncovered more critical information that the media hasn’t provided.
It turns out that one of Zanoli’s relatives, Omar Ziyada, was a field commander in Hamas’ Al Qassam Brigades.

Omar Ziyada, relative of 'Righteous Gentile'
Omar Ziyada, relative of ‘Righteous Gentile’ Henk Zanoli

Though the UK media – as they are wont to do – was all too willing to use the Righteous Gentile’s letter as an indictment against alleged Israeli sins, perhaps a few principled anti-racists journalists may want to contact Zanoli and ask a couple of critical questions:

  1. Even prior to your decision to return the award to Yad Vashem, you had grown to accept the narrative advanced largely by anti-Semites, or at least those who make common cause with such racists, that ‘Zionism = Racism’.  How did you devolve from an opponent of movements designed to de-legitimize Jews to someone who accepts their perverse, highly immoral logic?
  2. As someone who helped save a Jewish boy from a genocidal antisemitic movement, is your conscience at all bothered by the fact that one of your relatives fought for Hamas, an Islamist movement which similarly aspires to annihilate the Jews?
  3. Do you denounce Hamas and reject their racist ideology?

Finally, to be clear, the actions of Mr. Zanoli during WWII are no less heroic as a result of these recent turn of events.  However, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that, though he once was a staunch and brave ally in the war against anti-Jewish racism, he now sadly provides succor to the perpetrators.

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