Former chief rabbi: What’s happening in Syria is a holocaust
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Former chief rabbi: What’s happening in Syria is a holocaust

A Holocaust survivor himself, Yisrael Meir Lau calls for emergency Knesset session; Yad Vashem expresses 'deep concern' over 'carnage'

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv attends a ceremony for a new Torah scroll brought to the synagogue of the Knesset, Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on June 9, 2015.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv attends a ceremony for a new Torah scroll brought to the synagogue of the Knesset, Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on June 9, 2015.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A former chief rabbi of Israel called what is happening in Syria “a holocaust,” as one of the world’s leading scholars on the Holocaust repeated his call for an end to “atrocities” happening there.

Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel and the current chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, told Army Radio Thursday that “what is happening in Syria is [also] a holocaust.”

“Not [just] from today, for six years a holocaust has fallen on them,” said Lau, who himself survived the Nazi slaughter of Europe’s Jews as a child and was liberated from Buchenwald death camp.

Lau said Israel and the rest of the world should put aside political considerations that may be keeping them from intervening in the civil war, joining others in Israel who have called for action in the wake of the deadly attack.

The comments came after 86 people were killed, among them at least 20 children, in a Tuesday chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun widely believed to have been carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Victims of the attack showed signs of nerve gas exposure, the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders said, including suffocation, foaming at the mouth, convulsions, constricted pupils and involuntary defecation. Paramedics were using fire hoses to wash the chemicals from the bodies of victims.

Medical teams also reported smelling bleach on survivors of the attack, suggesting chlorine gas was also used, Doctors Without Borders said.

The magnitude of the attack was reflected in the images of the dead — children piled in heaps for burial, a father carrying his lifeless young twins.

Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, April 4, 2017. (AFP/Mohamed al-Bakour)
Syrian children receive treatment following a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, April 4, 2017. (AFP/Mohamed al-Bakour)

The attack refocused world attention on Syria after over six years of war that has left some 500,000 people dead by some estimates, and drew widespread condemnation and accusations of war crimes by the Syrian regime.

In Israel, leaders, politicians and others expressed outrage and called for action, with President Reuven Rivlin indirectly invoking the Holocaust in his Tuesday statement.

“We, as a people who survived the greatest of atrocities and rose from the ashes to be a strong and secure nation, we will do all we can to continue to aid the survivors of the horrors in Syria,” the president said in a statement. “We know all too well how dangerous silence can be, and we cannot remain mute.”

Avner Shalev, head of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum, expressed “deep concern over the appalling evidence of renewed carnage in Syria.”

“Following World War II, the global community enacted universal principles and instituted international organizations with the express purpose of averting future crimes against humanity,” he said.

Shalev called upon “world leaders and the global community to act now in order to place to put a stop to the atrocities and avert further suffering,” repeating comments made late last year.

Pressed on whether the international community’s responses to genocide have changed since the one he endured as a child, Lau replied that “the only thing we’ve learned from history is that we haven’t learned anything from it.”

Lau proposed that the Knesset convene an emergency session “at the height of the Passover recess…to give voice to the cries of the Syrian children…and all of the other innocent civilians.”

“If we don’t [do this], who will?” he asked.

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