Never again

German politician starts nonprofit to bring Holocaust awareness to Arab nations

In N.Y. raising money for the new initiative, Armin Laschet tells eJP that bringing teachers from the UAE, Bahrain and other Arab countries is just a starting point. ‘This could change thinking in Arab societies'

The Abraham Accords have led to warmer ties, increased trade and more robust people-to-people exchanges between Israel and the Arab countries with which it signed the normalization pacts in 2020, as well as more Muslim-Jewish dialogue in general. Now, the reach of the Accords is spreading to Germany, where a member of the German Bundestag, inspired by the historic agreements, is launching a new nonprofit aimed at raising Holocaust awareness in the Arab world.

Armin Laschet, vice president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, spent last week in New York to raise funds for the new organization. Called the Abraham Accords Institute for Peace and Regional Cooperation, the organization will bring teachers from Arab countries to Germany to learn about the Holocaust, Laschet told eJewishPhilanthropy during his visit. 

The idea for the nonprofit came to Laschet soon after the Abraham Accords were signed in 2020, he recalled. “I decided to found an organization to make [the Abraham Accords] more known in Germany,” he said, adding that currently, “Germany has an institute that works across party lines to inform the public and politicians about what the Abraham Accords are and ways towards peace in the region.” 

The Abraham Accords are a series of joint normalization agreements initially between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain following decades of conflict, mediated by the United States and effective since Sept. 15, 2020. Morocco, which cut off its ties with Israel in 2000 with the start of the Second Intifada, renewed its official relations in 2020 as well. Sudan in principle has agreed to normalize ties with Israel, though the internal fighting in the country has delayed the process.

“I saw that after a couple of years after the Abraham Accords were signed, no one in Germany or Europe is really informed about this project,” Laschet continued. “A lot of people were skeptical because it was [brokered] by President Donald Trump,” he added.

Laschet, 62, has held prominent roles in German politics since 2017, when he was elected as minister president of North Rhine-Westphalia. He served as leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) from January 2021 to January 2022 before stepping into his current position in January of last year. 

Laschet observed that while Germans were not educated about the Abraham Accords, people living in Arab countries were overall unschooled about the Holocaust. 

“In Arab states, they never spoke about the Holocaust,” he told eJP, adding that this is starting to change. “[We need ] more young people to become empathetic. This is only possible from personal visits, not just by school books, but to actually see a concentration camp, to see what it means murdering 6 million people.” 

The institute, Laschet explained, will bring teachers from Abraham Accords signatory countries and other Arab nations to Germany “to show them what a catastrophe the Holocaust was in the whole world.” The initiative, he suggested, “could change thinking in Arab societies.”

“A lot of [U.S. philanthropic] institutions are interested in supporting the Abraham Accords and memorializing the Holocaust,” Laschet said. “It’s been supported by the German government and the UAE government. But we still need support.” 

He told eJP that Israeli President Isaac Herzog is an advocate of the nonprofit. 

The program is slated to begin in the fall, on a small scale. “We need a long-term strategy still to enlarge it if it is successful,” Lachet said, adding it should be nonpartisan. “Even if governments have problems with each other politically, their societies should participate nevertheless.” 

Bringing teachers to Germany is just a starting point, Laschet said. “Germany is a neutral place, a place to start. At the end, I hope they will go to Israel and visit Yad Vashem [Israel’s official memorial to victims of the Holocaust].”

Laschet expressed hope that his nonprofit will be the “German contribution” to educating about the Holocaust and combating antisemitism.