Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his speech at the start of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day to hit out Wednesday at Islamist extremists and Europeans for continuing to incite against Jews and question the Jewish state’s right to exist, which he said was tantamount to anti-Semitism.
The Yad Vashem museum in Jerusalem hosted the ceremony that began the memorial, during which six survivors each lit a beacon — one for every million Jews slain. Sara Kain, Robert Tamashof, Jehosua Hesel Fried, Joseph Labi, Chaim Grosbein and Lonia Rozenhoc were chosen to light the symbolic torches this year.
“Slander comes before destruction. Today millions in the Muslim world read and hear threatening lies about the Jewish people. They say Jews are the descendants of monkeys and pigs, they say Jews drink the blood of their enemies,” Netanyahu said during the ceremony. Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, he said, would not have been surprised by anti-Jewish comments on social media.
“This incitement comes from Islamic extremism and the Arab world. But in the last years it has been joined by incitement no less destructive from the Western world. British parliamentarians, Swedish officials and French thought leaders,” he said.
“If over the years, anti-Semites portrayed Jews as enemies of humanity, today they portray the Jewish state as the enemy of humanity. There is no end to these lies,” he added.
The prime minister lamented what he called Israel’s failure to provide a sufficiently decent life for its Holocaust survivors. President Reuven Rivlin was correct in admitting that the country had failed in this regard, Netanyahu said, referring to comments made by the head of state before the prime minister took the podium.
“For years we haven’t done enough,” Netanyahu said, but added that the government would increase its support for survivors “because it’s our obligation.”
“I came here today, to ask each one of you for forgiveness,” Rivlin said. “We did not understand, we did not want to understand, and we have not done enough.”
The president also lashed out at ongoing anti-Semitism around the world.
“Anti-Semitism and the persecution of the Jews are not a fad, it is a difficult chronic disease. We will forever pursue the blood of our brothers and sisters, which screams at us from within the earth. We will continue to pursue the deniers, those who want to forget, and those who want to blur history,” he said.
“We will forever know how to protect ourselves by ourselves. The Holocaust will forever place us, the Jewish people, as eternal prosecutors on the stage of humanity, prosecutor against anti-Semitism, racism and ultra-nationalism.”
The ceremony was broadcast on all Israeli television channels and on several radio stations. On Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, places of entertainment are closed and Holocaust themed-movies and documentaries are shown on TV.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is the struggle to maintain the human spirit during the Holocaust, Yad Vashem said ahead of the remembrance day.
The solemn event is marked by music, speeches by leaders, the lighting of memorial candles and the saying of Kaddish, the sacred Jewish prayer for the dead.
On Wednesday, a siren will sound at 10 a.m. across Israel, signalling the start of a two-minute silence for the victims of the Holocaust.
The siren will be followed by ceremonies honoring those who lost their lives. The central event will again take place at Yad Vashem, where dignitaries will lay wreaths next to a monument commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. A ceremony will also be held at the Knesset.
On Thursday afternoon, thousands of people are expected to take part in the annual March of the Living in Poland, from Auschwitz extermination camp to the adjacent Birkenau site.