The second part of Shalev's statement, that Arabs who helped Jews did not face a threat, also does not hold up to scrutiny. The Nazis aggressively pursued their campaign against the Jews in Tunisia: Jews there were subjected to mass arrest, hostage taking, torture, slave labor, deportations, and executions. If Jews faced such threats, how could Yad Vashem reach the conclusion that their protectors had no legitimate fear of retribution should they be caught?
In adopting this dismissive approach, Yad Vashem brushes aside not just the bravery of Arabs who protected Jews. It also implicitly demeans the Holocaust-era suffering of those persecuted Jews themselves. Survivors and rescuers are fundamentally linked: If, as Yad Vashem argues, there could be no "righteous" in Tunisia, then it only stands to reason that there were also no survivors in Tunisia. After all, one of basic characteristics of a "survivor" is someone who could have been rescued by a "righteous."
This is the argument made by three cousins who grew up together in the small Tunisian town of Mahdia -- the late Anny Boukhris, Eva Weisel of Los Angeles, and Edmee Masliah of France. These three women presented testimony to Yad Vashem that Tunisian farm owner Khalid Abdul Wahab saved their lives by protecting them and their family from violent attack by German officers. Despite this, Yad Vashem twice rejected Abdul Wahab for the righteous designation. The only plausible explanation for dismissing these claims -- and the claims of other Jews who have praised Arabs for saving their lives -- is that Yad Vashem doesn't really believe Tunisia's Jews were under threat.
If true, this would be scandalous. It would mean that Yad Vashem made a terrible blunder by chiseling the names of Tunisian cities and towns into the granite of its gut-wrenching Valley of Lost Communities. It would mean that Yad Vashem has been duped into convening an annual memorial ceremony to commemorate the Nazis' December 1942 roundup of the Jews of Tunis.
Of course, none of that is the case. Yad Vashem's recognition of the Holocaust-era suffering of Tunisia's Jews is entirely appropriate, because it is a historical fact. Indeed, in 2010, Yad Vashem even published a book that chronicled in great detail what happened to the Jews of Arab lands during the Holocaust; I should know, I wrote the Hebrew edition. If the Tunisian Jews who lived through the camps, raids, arrests, beatings, and hardships are legitimately termed "survivors," how could Yad Vashem rule out the idea that some Arabs were also rescuers?
I remain hopeful that Yad Vashem will right this wrong. As an ever-optimistic Mrs. Weisel wrote in the New York Times in December 2011: "Sixty-nine years after pinning a yellow star to my chest in my native land, I know that I was able to enjoy a long, full life because Abdul Wahab confronted evil and saved me, as he saved other fortunate members of my family. I hope that Yad Vashem reconsiders his case before no one is left to tell his story."