Calls for Palestinian-Focused Permanent Exhibit at Human Rights Museum Sparks Controversy, Anti-Israel Fears

April 26, 2021 Updated: April 26, 2021

Pro-Palestinian activists are making a renewed push for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights to install an exhibit highlighting the plight of Arab-Palestinian refugees, while mainstream Jewish organizations see the attempt as public political point-scoring and propaganda.

The controversy surrounds what Palestinians refer to as “Nakba” (Arabic for catastrophe)—the displacement of some 700,000 Arab-Palestinians during the 1948 war between Israel and five neighbouring Arab states.

The federally funded CMHR in Winnipeg includes exhibits on various modern genocides, including the Holocaust, Ukrainian Holodomor, Armenian genocide, Rwandan genocide, and Srebrenica genocide in Bosnia.

According to a March article by Candice Bodnaruk in the Washington Report of Middle East Affairs magazine, pro-Palestinian groups have been lobbying for a Nakba exhibit at the CMHR since 2011.

Also in March, advocacy group Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) sent out a fact sheet that addressed the question “why are Palestinian Canadians dissatisfied with the museum?”

“Palestinian Canadians are disappointed that the CMHR does not substantively include information about Palestinians, and that it has refused to recognize the Nakba,” it read. “There have been very few mentions of Palestine in the CMHR since it first opened.”

Divergent Views

In a March 30 Zoom presentation hosted by CJPME titled “Where’s Palestine at the CMHR?” speakers revealed their renewed interest in lobbying this cause.

Rana Abdulla, a Winnipeg-based Palestinian-Canadian activist, said that in the past she “felt there was bad faith about the [museum] trustees, that there was no authentic interest in Palestine.”

But “now, we are looking at a very optimistic view, with new management… [the museum’s new president and CEO Isha Khan] is trying to open doors to the Palestinian narrative to make sure the museum’s very inclusive.”

The webinar also featured Bodnaruk, who echoed that sentiment.

Abdulla added that “I understand from our discussion that the Palestinian narrative is genuinely being considered for inclusion by the museum, in both digital and physical form.” She suspects it may include presentations and discussions on “war crimes, including the illegal settlements, right of return, and apartheid.”

Abdullah called the Arab-Palestinian refugee problem an “ethnic cleansing” and wants it to be “part of the museum’s permanent genocide exhibition.”

However, Israeli author and historian Benny Morris says “ethnic cleansing was not carried out in Israel” during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Regarding the refugees situation, Morris wrote in the Israeli paper Haaretz that “responsibility is split among [Israel], the Palestinians and the Arab countries—with enormous responsibility lying with the Palestinians who started the conflict.”

Asked whether a Nakba exhibit is in the works, CMHR media relations manager Maureen Fitzhenry told The Epoch Times, “As a public institution and a museum dedicated to human rights, it is always important for us to listen to a broad range of community perspectives.”

“Discussions have been held with Palestinian-Canadian representatives and we look forward to ongoing dialogue,” she said. “We will be exploring new and better ways to educate the public and share human rights stories—including those about the Middle East—through programs, online content, and exhibits.”

‘Incomplete Portrayal of the Conflict’

Several of Canada’s major Jewish advocacy groups weighed in on their disapproval.

Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told The Epoch Times that his organization is “alarmed by anti-Israel activists’ attempts to strong-arm the Canadian Museum for Human Rights into creating a highly politicized and toxic ‘Nakba’ exhibit.”

“While there is no question that Palestinians have suffered as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” he said, “to host an exhibit that ignores the anti-Jewish genocidal undertones that led to the Palestinians’ current predicament, while denying the equally painful expulsion of more than 850,000 Jews from Arab and Muslim countries, is an incomplete portrayal of the conflict and a travesty of history.”

Michael Mostyn, CEO of Jewish human rights organization B’nai Brith Canada, said, “We are particularly concerned by attempts by some individuals and groups to minimize the murder of six million Jews in the Holocaust by attempting to equate it with the Nakba.”

Andria Spindel, executive director of the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation, penned an open letter to Khan imploring that the CMHR “not accept lies and distortions [from those]that preach antisemitism, deny historical facts, and pursue the destruction of a legitimate democratic state.”

Steven Greenwood, executive director of StandWithUs Canada, said his Israel advocacy group is “deeply concerned that the CMHR is being pressured to promote harmful, one-sided anti-Israel claims under the guise of human rights.”

Since 1947, over 15 other large refugee crises—involving one-million-plus people—have occurred, none of which has a permanent exhibit at the museum, nor do the 6.6 million Syrian refugees of the last decade.