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Holocaust scholars in India debate ‘Bawaal,’ controversial new Bollywood movie about couple visiting Auschwitz

(JTA) – Mehak Burza is the first to admit that the state of Holocaust awareness in India is abysmal. 

“You will not get a very positive response on this,” she said with a laugh.

Indian schoolchildren are taught next to nothing about the events of the Holocaust, and what does make it to textbooks does not mention Jews, Burza said. Public opinion on Hitler ranges from neutral to positive, with politicians, TV characters, and businesses having adopted his name and dress as aspirational symbols over the past few years.

“They always see the Holocaust as an alien event,” Burza, who teaches English literature at several universities in New Delhi, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

All of that, Burza said, is why — despite some serious reservations — she is pleased with the new Bollywood movie “Bawaal,” which follows a conceited history teacher as he learns about the events of the Holocaust while trying to repair his strained relationship with his wife. The movie, which debuted on Amazon Prime two weeks ago, tracks its protagonists Ajay and Nisha as they visit European World War II sites of note, including the beaches of Normandy, Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam, Hitler’s bunker in Berlin and the Auschwitz death camps.

“Bawaal” has been heavily criticized both by people who happened to tune into the movie and also by Jewish groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which objects to the characters in the film’s climax imagining themselves as Jewish prisoners of the camp. The film is rife with historical inaccuracies and barely mentions Jews; it also has lines of dialogue that Burza admits are deeply offensive and off-putting. In the most egregious example, one actor playing an Auschwitz survivor tells the protagonists, “Every relationship has its own Auschwitz.”

When Burza heard that line, “I had to pause the movie and go and get a breath of fresh air,” she said. “You’re trivializing Auschwitz with your marriage!” 

Yet Burza, who is also the head of Holocaust studies at the Global Center for Religious Research, still thinks “Bawaal” is a positive start to the subject that will encourage many Indians to do further research into the Holocaust.

“Being the first Bollywood movie to take up this issue is very, very challenging, and a very big step for an Indian audience,” she said. “As a Holocaust scholar, I can point out hundreds of mistakes in the movie. But as a first-time audience, I see, OK, it’s a welcome step to those who don’t even know anything at all.

“The only disappointing thing that quite irritated me throughout the movie,” she added with a laugh, “was the pronunciation of ‘Auschwitz.’” (In the movie, the characters make it sound like “office.”)

Born and educated in the capital of New Delhi, Burza came to the subject of Holocaust scholarship while studying to become a medical doctor, after an interest in trauma narratives kept drawing her to memoirs by survivors. Switching her studies to English literature, she focused her thesis on the breakdown of gender in Holocaust memoirs and found that while “Mein Kampf” has been translated into most of India’s 22 official languages, very few Jewish authors of Holocaust books had found anything approaching a similar reach. Burza’s students had read Anne Frank’s diary, she said, but were under the impression it was a novel.

India’s lack of awareness of the Holocaust can be partially attributed to its own history from the time period. Only two years after the British helped liberate the Nazi death camps, its dissolving empire hastily divided India and Pakistan into Hindu- and Muslim-majority nations, which led to the killing of more than 1 million people in sectarian violence and displacement of an estimated 15 million more. The devastating legacy of partition has led many Indians today to refer to the event as the “Indian Holocaust.” 

India’s current Hindu-nationalist government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has sought to capitalize on that painful history by passing discriminatory laws and stoking ethnic resentment toward its Muslim minority, which Hindu nationalists believe has no claim to the nation. On Monday, Modi faced a no-confidence vote in his country’s parliament over his lack of response to an upswing in violent attacks on Muslim and Christian minority populations in the state of Manipur. A small Jewish community in the area has also been caught up in the ethnic violence.

Efforts to spread Hindu nationalist sentiment have extended to the country’s extraordinarily popular and globally influential film industry, as Bollywood filmmakers are under increasing pressure to mount historically dubious productions painting India’s Hindu population as heroes and Muslims as villains. Recently, Israel’s ambassador to India apologized after the acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Nadav Lapid, serving as a juror on an Indian film festival, sharply criticized one of the films in competition for what he said was Islamophobic propaganda.

Navras Aafreedi, left, and Mehak Burza have differing views on the new Bollywood movie “Bawaal.” (Screenshot via YouTube; courtesy Mehak Burza)

In this context, the decision by “Bawaal” director and co-writer Nitesh Tiwari to make his film about the history of WWII and the Holocaust rather than a world event that directly involved India was a bold one, Burza said. Tiwari recently told Indian media he chose his subject matter because the events were less familiar to Indian audiences who could go on the same journey of understanding as the protagonists. He and stars Varun Dhawan and Janhvi Kapoor also dismissed critics of the film, with the director saying he was “disappointed” they had not “comprehended it” in the manner in which it was intended. The film’s production team, Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment, did not return a JTA request for comment.

Even within the microscopic cohort of India’s Holocaust and Jewish Studies scholars, there is deep division on “Bawaal.” Navras Aafreedi, a history professor at Presidency University in Kolkata who studies Jewish communities of India and orchestrated the country’s first Holocaust film series, believes the movie is just another example of the Indian tendency to trivialize the Holocaust. He told JTA the film’s treatment of its subject matter is “deeply disturbing but certainly not surprising.”

Just as Hitler has come to be used as a metaphor for any authoritarian figure in India, often with admiration,” Aafreedi wrote in an email, the makers of the film ‘Bawaal’ see it appropriate to refer to Auschwitz as a metaphor for marital quarrels.”

Outside observers, including genocide scholar Gregory Stanton — who developed the theory of the “Ten Stages of Genocide” in part by researching the Holocaust — have warned that India may be headed toward a genocide of its own within a few years; the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has expressed similar concerns, with its data researchers recently determining the country is one of the most at risk for a new mass killing. Last year the museum published an interview about the region with human rights attorney Waris Husain, who asserted that under Modi, “exclusionary ideology — a known mass atrocity risk factor has escalated.”

Both Burza and Aafreedi are Muslim, which, Burza says, lends an air of urgency to her push to improve Holocaust education in India.

That context, Burza said, may help explain one of the movie’s more head-scratching moments, in which the teacher’s wife, Nisha, muses that “we’re all a little like Hitler” because “we are not satisfied with what we have.” That line, she said, could be understood as a subversive political statement directed at the broad swaths of Indian society who admire Hitler without understanding the danger he posed. 

“The present government is compared with Hitler,” she pointed out, noting that Stanton and others have drawn a link between “what [Modi is] doing to the Muslims and what Hitler did to the Jews.”

Regardless of whether or not Indian audiences think about such issues while watching “Bawaal,” Burza believes it’s inevitable the movie will lead to an increased interest in Holocaust education in her country — not to mention an uptick in Indian visitors to Auschwitz. 

“In India, whatever the male lead and the female lead does in the movies, that becomes a trend,” she said. “Mark my words: You’ll see Indians at these sites.”

The post Holocaust scholars in India debate ‘Bawaal,’ controversial new Bollywood movie about couple visiting Auschwitz appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Treasure Trove: A 1905 postcard from Basel recalls the many Zionist groups and supporters in Toronto

“Greetings from the Seventh Zionist Congress to our friends in Toronto” reads the top message on this postcard sent from the 1905 Congress in Basel, the first held after the death of Theodor Herzl. The image was painted by Carl Josef Pollack and depicts Herzl standing among his fellow Jews awaiting entrance to the Land of […]

The post Treasure Trove: A 1905 postcard from Basel recalls the many Zionist groups and supporters in Toronto appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘Arteries of Capitalism’: Anti-Zionist Groups Planning Major ‘Blockade’ of Ports Around the World

Pro-Hamas demonstrators marching in Munich, Germany. Photo: Reuters/Alexander Pohl

Far-left anti-Israel activists are launching a mass demonstration to block the “arteries of capitalism” on Monday by staging a blockade of commercial shipping ports across the world in protest of Western support for the Jewish state.

“We will identify and blockade major choke points in the economy, focusing on points of production and circulation with the aim of causing the most economic impact,” A15, the group planning the action, announced in a statement. “There is a sense in the streets in this recent and unprecedented movement for Palestine that escalation has become necessary: there is a need to shift from symbolic actions to those that cause pain to the economy.”

A15 is calling on members in cities such as New York, Dublin, Sydney, Ho Chi Minh, Genoa, London, and others to participate in the act, which could endanger billions of dollars in shipping. The group is also sharing information about police arrest, bail, and other legal information, possibly suggesting that its members are prepared to behave unlawfully.

“As Yemen is bombed to secure global trade and billions of dollars are sent to the Zionist war machine, we must recognize that the global economy is complicit in genocide and together we will coordinate to disrupt and blockage economic logistical hubs and the flow of capital,” the group continued.

Another anti-Zionist group, which goes by “Within Our Lifetime,” has vowed to join the demonstration and will participate by amassing on Wall Street in an attempt to bring trading on the New York Stock Exchange to a halt. Nerdeen Kiswani, a former City University of New York student who once threatened to set a person’s sweater on fire while he was wearing it, will lead the effort.

Police in Victoria, Australia are on high alert, according to a report this weel by The Sydney Morning Herald. On Monday, the city will activate its State Police Operations Center, an action which is reserved for emergencies and will require diverting resources from other cities in the state. One likely target of the group, the Port of Melbourne, processes over 8,000 containers per day and adds $11 billion to national gross domestic product (GDP).

Anti-Zionist protesters have protested at the Port of Melbourne before. In January, they attempted to prevent the docking container ship at Webb Dock because its owner, ZIM shipping firm, is an Israeli company.

The New York City area has been the site of similar demonstrations. In 2021, a group called “Block the Boat” protested the unloading of a container ship owned by ZIM at the Port of New York/New Jersey, two days after another Israeli ship was reportedly blocked from unloading in Oakland.

Since the Hamas terror group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, attempted disruptions of shipping have occurred in many major American cities. Most recently, a group amassed at San Francisco’s Piers 30/32 to condemn the leaving of USNS Harvey Milk, believing that it was en route to the Middle East.

US Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addressed the protesters, according to a local CBS affiliate, telling them that President Joe Biden agrees with their message.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Biden Pressure on Israel Partly Due to Concerns Over 2024 Election, Says Israeli Lawmaker, Former UN Ambassador

US President Joe Biden, left, pauses during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/Pool via REUTERS

Israeli politician and former Ambassador Danny Danon attributed US President Joe Biden’s increasingly critical posture toward Israel’s war on the Hamas terrorist group to domestic political concerns and the upcoming presidential election in a wide-ranging interview with The Algemeiner.

Danon, a current member of the Israeli parliament for the Likud party and former ambassador to the United Nations, spoke with The Algemeiner to discuss the ongoing war against the Hamas , potential escalation in northern Israel with the Hezbollah terrorist organization, and the evolving politics of the US-Israel relationship.

Asked about Biden’s pressure on Israel not to enter Rafah — the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza — and to agree to a ceasefire, Danon said, “You know, a ceasefire without us bringing the hostages back and defeating Hamas, it means that Israel will lose this war.”

“I don’t think that President Biden and other allies of Israel are actually supporting the stand of Israel losing the war,” he continued, arguing that “they have other interests in moving forward because of the election in the US and international pressure, but we have a different timeline.”

When asked to clarify if he believed the upcoming presidential election in the US was fueling Biden’s current policy toward Israel — especially in the form of public and private pressure — Danon reiterated that he believes “it’s a combination of the election and also international pressure.”

In several US states, activists have been campaigning for voters not to support Biden in the Democratic primary due to his overall support for Israel. In Michigan, for example, a key battleground state and home to America’s largest Arab population, a campaign to vote “uncommitted” during the state’s primary rather than for Biden gained significant support. Some prominent observers have suggested that the Biden administration’s changing position on Israel and the war in Gaza may be influenced by domestic political fears of losing electoral support from anti-Israel voters.

Meanwhile, amid escalating tensions on Israel’s northern front with Hezbollah, which wields significant political and military influence across Lebanon, Danon made it clear that Israel would remove the threat of Hezbollah on its border one way or another.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, “tens of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated from the northern communities” due to the rockets launched by Hezbollah on a nearly daily basis, he explained. In total, more than 2,000 rockets, along with many more anti-tank guided missiles and drones, have been launched into Israeli territory since the war began.

“They … have to be able to go back to their homes. In order for them to go back, we … have to push Hezbollah away from the border,” he said. “So that’s the end game.”

How that may happen in practice remains uncertain: “One option is to have negotiations and to prevent the conflict,” he said. “And the second option is to have a limited conflict. And the third option is to have a full war with Hezbollah.”

Regardless, he added, in the end Hezbollah “will not be on the fence and they will not threaten our communities.”

The interview took place prior to last week’s airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria last week that Iranian officials have attributed to Israel.

the Israeli strike in Syria that killed two commanders in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — putting Israel on high alert for the prospect of a direct Iranian attack on Israeli territory. The strike killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a US-designated terrorist organization, including two senior commanders.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the incident. However, Israel has been bracing for a retaliatory strike amid a flurry of public threats from Iran to attack Israel.

Another important issue that has captured the attention of the citizens of Israel and the entire Jewish world is the continued captivity of more than 130 people in Gaza who Hamas terrorists kidnapped during their Oct. 7 rampage. Liberated captives testified to surviving sexual assault, torture, and starvation.

“When you deal with the [sic] irrational enemy like Hamas, it’s very challenging [to negotiate a deal],” Danon said. “I think we should apply more force, more military force, and that will encourage Hamas to negotiate another agreement that will release more hostages.”

Some of the more than 250 hostages seized on Oct. 7 were released as part of a temporary Israel-Hamas truce in November.

Pushed on why there has not been another agreement since then, he explained, “The challenges that we are facing are not easy. Both the one that requires the defeat of Hamas, you know, we pay a very heavy toll every day, more and more soldiers are paying the price of their lives in order to achieve this goal.”

“And also the hostages,” he added. “It’s very hard for them, the conditions are unbearable, and we are aware of the ongoing atrocities. So it is hard, but I think it’s a challenge for us to be determined. And I think at the end of the day, despite the difficulty, we are determined to win this war, and we will win this war.”

Some Israelis have criticized the government for prioritizing military victory and politics over the return of the hostages. One family member of a hostage said at a rally recently that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “concern for coalition stability outweighs his clear duty to bring our loved ones home … We were told to sit still, we were told to travel the world, but after six months, the hostages are still in Gaza! This is a complete and deliberate failure!”

Nevertheless, Danon is singularly focused on winning the war against Hamas and bringing home the hostages. 

“I think the enemy underestimated the strength of the people of Israel, and they will realize that we are a strong nation and that’s why we will defeat them,” Danon concluded, underscoring the way in which this war has, in many ways, brought Israelis together in an unprecedented way.

The post Biden Pressure on Israel Partly Due to Concerns Over 2024 Election, Says Israeli Lawmaker, Former UN Ambassador first appeared on

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