Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg has condemned literature distributed at a SALAM Islamic Center event last week that suggests Jewish leaders in World War II Germany worked with Nazis to get permission to settle in Palestine.
A flier distributed by the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network - an event co-sponsor - said: "As part of this collaboration, Zionists ... even kept silent about impending plans to deport Jews into Nazi death camps.
"Zionism both exploited and hinged upon the rise of Nazism, and later, the Holocaust, to transform what had been a small nationalist movement with little support ... into one capable of achieving statehood, based on support from the U.S. and other imperial powers."
Steinberg said that "in essence, they are saying the Jews orchestrated the Holocaust. Talk about blaming the victims."
About 500 attended Wednesday's address by Auschwitz survivor Hajo Meyer, 86, who compared what happened to him and other Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930s to Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mona Alfi of Congregation B'nai Israel - one of 13 rabbis who had asked SALAM to cancel or boycott the event - said Sunday "there is no comparison" between the ways Jews in pre-war Germany and Palestinians have been treated.
"There are Palestinians in the Israeli government, there are universities with full participation," Alfi said. "There are real political problems between Palestinians and Israelis, but it's not what happened in Germany in the 1930s."
She called the flier alleging some Zionists were Nazi collaborators "a disgusting lie."
"To belittle the murder of 6 million Jews is a very raw subject for us," Alfi said.
In his open letter to Jews, Muslims and civil rights leaders after the event, Steinberg said he was "heartsick and saddened."
Steinberg didn't attend the event, but district director Susan McKee did, picking up the flier.
Event sponsors challenged Steinberg's assertion, saying they heard nothing anti-Semitic from either Meyer or Palestinian activist Hatem Bazian, a UC Berkeley professor.
"They made it very clear they're not saying the Jewish death camps were the same as the tragic conditions the Palestinian live under," said Andy Noguchi of the Florin Japanese American Citizens League, one of Sacramento's oldest civil rights organizations that supported the event.
"None of the people I contacted got the flier," Noguchi said, noting Meyer did say that leading up to the death camps, there were similarities in the treatment of Jews in the 1930s and Palestinians today "when it comes to discrimination and segregation."
The Florin JACL supports the lessons of the Holocaust "and we're concerned about human rights for Palestinians, just like we are about the people in Egypt and people in North Korea," Noguchi said. "If the event was anti-Semitic we wouldn't be within 20 miles of it."
Meyer had fled Germany for the Netherlands when he was forbidden to study in German schools after the November 1938 pogram.He said he returned to Germany in 1943, joined the underground and was captured and sent to Auschwitz.
After the war Meyer got his Ph.D in theoretical physics and became managing director of Philips Physics Laboratory.
"I can identify with those Palestinians who undergo slow motion genocide when they are not allowed to go their places of education," Meyer said. "Those who can't realize their ambitions are slowly killed...I'm afraid many, many, many Israelis are so brainwashed their feelings of empathy are largely reduced."
David Mandel of Jewish Voice for Peace, another event co-sponsor, didn't completely agree with Meyer's "strident rhetoric," but called the forum "an unusual opportunity for a lot of people in the Muslim community to hear from an authentic and honest Holocaust survivor."
Mandel said he wished there were opportunities to have a more "toned-down" discussion about the Palestinian issue at local synagogues, who he claimed don't allow significant criticism of Israel.
Alfi said there are plenty of discussions among Jews on the Palestinian question. "It's a very touchy topic but these conversations go on all the time."
Imam Mohamed Abdul Azeez, whose mosque rented its hall for the event, said SALAM didn't see or approve of the flier before it was distributed.
"We reject any remote suggestion that Jews have colluded with the Nazis," Azeez said.
But the event - drawing the largest crowd in five years to the mosque - "changed a lot of things," Azeez said. "Instead of demonizing Jews, it contributed to a positive perception of the Jewish community that some Jews, while upholding their Jewish faith will speak out against aggression and injustice against Palestine."