Thu, 23 Jan 2020 19:09 UTC
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during the Fifth World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020
Leaders congregated at the Yad Vashem remembrance centre on the western hills of Jerusalem for a three-hour event held by the fifth World Holocaust Forum. Organisers hoped the meeting would provide a united front against anti-Jewish hatred, including in countries run by many of the attendees.
"Historical lessons were forgotten. Remembering the past is our duty, but it is not enough," said the narrator of a video played at the start of the ceremony, as the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the US vice-president, Mike Pence, sat in the front row.
Tel Aviv University researchers last year catalogued nearly 400 attacks against Jewish people in 2018, and warned that antisemitism had "mainstreamed". Increases were most notable in western Europe and North America: France and Germany saw a more than 70% rise in reported antisemitic violence. Other studies have also shown knowledge of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews including 1.5 million children were killed, is fading.
Moshe Kantor, the president of the World Holocaust Forum, said 40% of European Jews were considering leaving their countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) greets King Phillipe of Belgium © and King Felipe of Spain ® during an event at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020, to mark 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz
"I responded to the call to come to Yad Vashem to say, this shall never happen again. It's a battle that is never won," he said. "My determination to act on this is total."
Prince Charles, who represented Britain, warned that lessons of the Holocaust are "searingly relevant to this day", adding that "hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart" and "adopt new disguises".
Separately, in a move that appeared timed to coincide with the event, Germany banned a neo-Nazi group, named Combat 18 Deutschland. Police carried out raids in six German states early on Thursday. The group is an offshoot of Combat 18, which was founded in Britain in the early 1990s as a militant wing of the British National party.
President Vladimir Putin, Reuven Rivlin and Emmanuel Macron, with Britain’s Prince Charles, attend the World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020.
While promoted as a signal of international consensus, an event of such magnitude was not devoid of political theatre and diplomatic confrontations. On Wednesday, Macron had a loud confrontation with an Israel security officer trying to escort the president into a French-owned Jerusalem church.
The biggest furore, however, centred around the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, who pulled out after being told he was not allowed to speak, but that Putin would. The two leaders have sparred recently over Putin's comments accusing Poland of complicity in the start of the second world war.
Poland's President Andrzej Duda gives a press conference on February 6, 2018, in Warsaw.
Poland complains that Moscow has sought to rewrite the Soviet Union's role in the outbreak of the second world war. Lithuania's president, Gitanas Nausėda, also pulled out of the trip to Jerusalem, although he did not provide a reason.
- Poland seeks to rewrite WWII history, excludes Russia from participating in war memorial
- In its obsession with Russia, Polish government rushes headlong into Holocaust revisionism
- Transparency: Putin says Russia will combat rewriting of WWII history with new free-to-all archive center - 'We'll shut your filthy mouths'
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, used his speech to condemn what he called the "tyrants of Tehran" running Iran. He said he was "concerned that we have yet to see a unified and resolute stance against the most antisemitic regime on the planet".
Mike Pence joined his ally, railing against Israel's arch foe. "The world must stand strong against Iran," he told delegates.
Netanyahu, who faces three corruption indictments and an upcoming March election, has sought to use the mass gathering of leaders to press on other issues.
He wants to build opposition against the international criminal court, which is investigating allegations of war crimes in the Palestinian territories. On Tuesday, he called for sanctions against ICC officials, including its prosecutor.
Macron met the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Wednesday and Putin and Prince Charles are expected to do the same.
Netanyahu also hopes to use Putin's trip to pressure Russia to release a 26-year-old Israeli woman held in Russia for smuggling cannabis. On Thursday, Putin met Naama Issachar's mother, Yaffa, and hinted she might be released soon. "I told her, and I shall say it again: everything will be fine," he said.