Rivlin: This is a historic gathering for all humanity
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Renowned Holocaust scholar: WWII started because of Hitler’s anti-Semitism

At gathering of some 40 world leaders in Jerusalem, Prof. Yehuda Bauer tells Europeans to fight anti-Semitism not to save the Jews, but to save Europe

  • President Reuven Rivlin addresses world leaders at a dinner at the President's Residence in Jerusalem as part of the World Holocaust Forum on January 22, 2020. (Screenshot)
    President Reuven Rivlin addresses world leaders at a dinner at the President's Residence in Jerusalem as part of the World Holocaust Forum on January 22, 2020. (Screenshot)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Cyprus's President Nicos Anastasiades at the President's Residence in Jerusalem as President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum, on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Cyprus's President Nicos Anastasiades at the President's Residence in Jerusalem as President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum, on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum, on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum, on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • World leaders listen as President Reuven Rivlin delivers a speech at the President's Residence as part of the World Holocaust Forum on January 22, 2020. (Screenshot)
    World leaders listen as President Reuven Rivlin delivers a speech at the President's Residence as part of the World Holocaust Forum on January 22, 2020. (Screenshot)
  • President Reuven Rivlin with French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron at the President's Residence as Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    President Reuven Rivlin with French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron at the President's Residence as Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • Holocaust scholar Prof. Yehuda Bauer addresses world leaders at a dinner at the President's Residence in Jerusalem as part of the World Holocaust Forum on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    Holocaust scholar Prof. Yehuda Bauer addresses world leaders at a dinner at the President's Residence in Jerusalem as part of the World Holocaust Forum on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum, on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
    President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum, on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
  • French President Emmanuel Macron visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on January 22, 2020. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)
    French President Emmanuel Macron visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on January 22, 2020. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.

Iran’s president insists his country will never seek nuclear weapons

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani says his country will never seek to possess nuclear weapons, according to quotes on his official website translated by Reuters.

“We have never sought nuclear weapons,” he says. “With or without the nuclear deal we will never seek nuclear weapons.”

He adds that “the European powers will be responsible for the consequences of violating the pact.”

Iran is in a row with Germany, France and Britain over their threat to turn to the UN Security Council about Tehran’s increasing violations of the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has steadily rolled back its implementation of the deal after the US withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

Israel, the US and many other nations believe Iran has been pursuing nuclear weapons since the UN’s nuclear watchdog first found Tehran in violation of the global anti-nuclear pact, the NPT, in 2003.

Masked gunmen kill local commander of Iran’s security forces

TEHRAN, Iran — Masked gunmen ambush and kill the local commander of a paramilitary security force in southwestern Iran, an associate of Iran’s top general recently killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad, the official IRNA news agency reports.

The slain commander, Abdolhossein Mojaddami, headed the Basij forces, a paramilitary wing of the Revolutionary Guard used for internal security and other tasks, in the town of Darkhoein. He is gunned down in front of his home in the town in the country’s oil rich Khuzestan province.

Two gunmen on a motorcycle, armed with an assault rifle and a hunting rifle, ambushed Mojaddami, IRNA reports. Other Iranian media say the gunmen’s faces were covered with masks and that four shots were fired.

The case is under investigation and a motive was not immediately clear, but Basij units had been involved in violent clashes with demonstrators in the area in November in which many protesters were injured and killed. Amnesty International has reported that more than 300 people were killed in the unrest across the country, though some estimates are much higher and Iran has not announced an official death toll.

Mojaddami’s killing is another blow to the Revolutionary Guard following the death of top general Qassem Soleimani earlier this month in a US drone strike in Iraq.

— AP

Turkey urges Russia to halt Syrian government attacks after family killed

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s foreign minister urges Russia to halt the Syrian government’s attacks in the war-torn Arab country, a day after airstrikes on rebel-held sectors and the shelling of government-held areas killed at least 17 people, including an entire family.

In his remarks, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insists it is Moscow’s responsibility to stop the violence as Russia has been a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the civil war.

The Syrian government has been carrying out an offensive on the northwestern province of Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in the country, and the rebel-held parts of nearby Aleppo province. The fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom fled to areas closer to the border with Turkey.

Dozens of fighters have been killed on both sides in recent days as clashes intensified. The fighting comes despite a new cessation of hostilities agreement between Russia and Turkey that went into effect earlier this month. Moscow and Ankara stand on opposing sides of the conflict in Syria.

“Russia is the guarantor of the (Syrian) regime,” Cavusoglu tells a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “Russia is obliged to stop this aggression. The situation in Idlib is our main focus because the regime has been increasing its aggression,” he adds. “Already, 400,000 people have been displaced and moved toward our border.”

Idlib is dominated by al-Qaeda-linked groups, but is also home to 3 million civilians. The United Nations has warned of the growing risk of a humanitarian catastrophe along the Turkish border.

— AP

Gantz tells Macron anti-Semitism threatens ‘democratic fabric’ of Europe

Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz tells French President Emmanuel Macron that anti-Semitism threatens the “democratic fabric” of Europe.

The two meet in Jerusalem on the sidelines of the fifth World Holocaust Forum hosted by Yad Vashem.

“I shared my concerns with [Macron] about the recent rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and thanked him for his determined leadership in fighting this concerning trend in France. Anti-Semitism is a threat not only to the local Jewish communities of Europe but to the democratic fabric of European society as well,” Gantz says in a statement to the press.

The two discussed “various regional issues, foremost among them the challenge posed by Iran,” the statement says.

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, meets with Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz in Jerusalem, January 22, 2019. (Elad Malka)

Cyprus: Turkey may have stolen data for latest Mediterranean gas drilling

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Turkey may have stolen technical data that enabled it to send a drill ship to a specific location south of Cyprus that energy companies Eni and Total had preselected to carry out their own exploratory drilling, a Cypriot official says.

Government spokesman Kyriakos Koushos says that although Cypriot authorities don’t have definitive proof, it’s believed that Turkey got its hands on data that helped guide its drill ship to the specific target.

The target is situated in an area, or block, where Cyprus has licensed Italian Eni and Total of France to carry out a hydrocarbons search. The two companies are licensed to conduct exploratory drilling in seven of the 13 blocks that make up Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone.

“There’s information, which is probably correct, that they had stolen plans and studies from a specific company, that’s why they went to the specific spot,” Koushos tells Greece’s state broadcaster ERT. He says he’s not suggesting that either Eni or Total had handed Turkey the data.

Koushos repeats Cyprus’s accusation that Turkey is flouting international law by carrying on with illegal drilling activity in Cypriot waters, and accuses the country of “gunboat diplomacy.”

“Unfortunately, Turkey has become the pirate state of the east Mediterranean,” he says.

Koushos denies a Turkish claim that it’s in secret negotiations with Eni on a hydrocarbons search in the area.

Cyprus’s Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides says the European Union is moving to expedite sanctions against individuals or companies involved in illegal drilling off Cyprus.

— AP

Asia soccer body holds firm in face of Iran Champions League boycott

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Despite threats of an Iranian boycott of its flagship club competition, the Asian Football Confederation confirms that Champions League matches involving Shahr Khodro and Esteghlal have been moved to neutral venues because of security concerns.

The AFC releases a statement saying it had moved two qualification ties involving Iranian clubs — Shahr Khodro FC vs. Bahrain’s Riffa and Esteghlal vs. Kuwait SC — to neutral venues “because of ongoing security concerns and the decision of several Governments to issue travel warnings to the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The rescheduled matches will be played Saturday in the United Arab Emirates.

The AFC’s decision to move the matches comes days after the Iranian Football Federation threatened to boycott the 2020 Asian Champions League if they are barred from hosting international matches.

The IFF’s president Heidar Baharvand tells state television that if the ban is not reversed, Iran would withdraw its four teams — Persepolis, Esteghlal, Sepahan and Shahr Khodr — from the tournament.

The ban was instituted after Iranian forces accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane amid a military confrontation with the US earlier this month, killing all 176 people on board.

— with AP

Netanyahu meets US lawmakers’ delegation led by Pelosi

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets in Jerusalem with a delegation of US lawmakers visiting to attend the 5th World Holocaust Forum, which begins today.

The bipartisan delegation is led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranked Democrat in the US. The most senior Republican attending the forum is US Vice President Mike Pence, who will arrive tomorrow.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fourth left, meets a delegation of US lawmakers led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in Jerusalem on January 22, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Palestinian man held at Hebron holy site after police find knife in his pants

A 28-year-old Hebron resident is arrested at the Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site in the West Bank city after Border Police officers find a knife in his possession.

The knife sets off a metal detector at the site, according to police, leading to a body search that uncovers the blade in the man’s pants.

Police are not saying if they believe the incident was an attempted terror attack.

Putin to meet mother of Israeli backpacker imprisoned in Russia

A senior Kremlin official says Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet the mother of an Israeli backpacker imprisoned in Moscow on drug possession charges.

Naama Issachar was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison after 9.5 grams of marijuana were found in her luggage during a layover in a Moscow airport in April.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov tells the Russian business daily Vedomosti that Putin will meet Issachar’s mother Yaffa during his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Putin will land in Israel Thursday to attend the 5th World Holocaust Forum at Yad Vashem.

Israeli officials have expressed cautious optimism that Putin may use the visit to announce a pardon for Issachar.

Polish lawmaker posts cartoon comparing meat industry to Holocaust

A Polish lawmaker at the European Parliament shares on social media a drawing showing cows at a slaughterhouse wearing striped uniforms with yellow stars like the ones the Nazis made Jews wear at concentration camps.

Sylwia Spurek, a 43-year-old Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats representative, shares the drawing by Jo Frederiks, an artist who focuses on animal welfare.

Amid criticism of her actions on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Spurek defends them by quoting “the Jewish Nobel laurate Isaac Bashevis Singer,” as she describes him, who once wrote that: “In their behavior toward creatures, all men were Nazis.”

She adds about the painting: “Does this art delight me? No, it scares me how people treat other animals and I think that every intelligent person should understand the message of this artist.”

A drawing of cows wearing concentration camp uniform and a yellow star. (Sylwia Spurek/Jo Frederiks/via JTA)

Spurek’s critics charge that the comparison she endorses is offensive to Holocaust victims. People involved in Holocaust commemoration and animal welfare activists often have clashed over the drawing of parallels between the genocide and the meat industry.

From the Depths, a commemoration group in Poland, writes to complain today about Spurek to European Parliament President David Sassoli.

The group’s founder, Jonny Daniels, calls it a “hateful post” and asks Sassoli to take “disciplinary actions” against Spurek and to urge her to apologize to survivors and their families.


World leaders arriving at Ben Gurion for World Holocaust Forum

The procession of world leaders coming to attend the 5th World Holocaust Forum is well underway now. Spain’s King Felipe VI (he’ll be the tallest man in most photos in Israel, including the one below) just landed.

Some key European leaders are already here, including France’s President Emmanuel Macron, but the biggest geopolitical guns, at least where the geopolitics of the Middle East are concerned, will land tomorrow. Vice President Mike Pence’s plane is due to touch down at Ben Gurion Airport at 7:55 a.m. and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plane 35 minutes later, at 8:30 a.m.

King Felipe VI of Spain, left, is welcomed to Israel by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, center, and Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem, right, at Ben Gurion Airport, January 22, 2020. (Israeli Foreign Ministry)

Israel expected to push Iran concerns during Holocaust forum

Israel is preparing to lobby key world leaders at this week’s 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on what it considers one of the gravest modern threats to the Jewish people: Iran.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron of France and top US officials before Thursday’s World Holocaust Forum event at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem, where dozens of dignitaries are expected.

Speaking earlier this week, Netanyahu drew a direct link between the Nazi effort to exterminate Europe’s Jews and what he described as the existential threat Israel faces from Iran. “A third of the Jewish people went up in flames (in Nazi death camps). There was nothing we could do,” he said in a YouTube video. “After the Holocaust, the state of Israel was established, and the attempts to destroy the Jewish people have not disappeared… Iran openly declares every day that it wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” he added.

“I think the lesson of Auschwitz is, one, stop bad things when they’re small, and Iran is a very bad thing, it’s not that small, but it could get a lot bigger with nuclear weapons.”

Netanyahu is unlikely to convince European powers, let alone Russia, of joining the US-led “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran during the Jerusalem gathering.

But he might make marginal headway by urging Putin, the main geopolitical backer of the Assad regime in Damascus, to curb Iranian influence in Syria, and lobbying Macron to push back against Iran in Lebanon, where former colonial ruler France remains an influential player.


Macron shouts at Israeli policeman to leave French church on Via Dolorosa

French President Emmanuel Macron becomes visibly angry at Israeli police during a visit at the Church of Saint Anne on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem’s Old City, which is French territory. He orders the police officers out of the site.

The scene is reminiscent of an incident that involved Jacques Chirac in the 1990s, a French official tells AFP.

It is not immediately clear what sparked the French president’s ire.

“We know perfectly — everybody knows the rules. I don’t like what you did in front of me,” he is heard yelling at an officer in a video of the incident.

Macron said miffed by Israeli police entering French church as his security

French President Emmanuel Macron’s verbal altercation with Israeli police may have been caused by the Israeli officers posted to his security detail accidentally following him into the Church of St. Anne in the Old City of Jerusalem, which is reportedly French territory where Israeli police do not have jurisdiction.

There’s no clear confirmation yet from Macron’s office as to the cause of his ire.

Macron’s Jerusalem dust-up recalls similar altercation with Chirac in 1996

AFP, a French news service, has more information on what caused French President Emmanuel Macron’s outburst at Israeli police a short time ago.

It, too, drew a parallel to a similar dust-up during a visit by France’s then-president Jacques Chirac to Jerusalem’s Old City in 1996.

“I don’t like what you did in front of me,” Macron is seen shouting at an Israeli policeman standing in front of him at the entrance to the Church of St. Anne, which is French territory in the Old City of Jerusalem.

“Go outside please, nobody has to provoke anyone, is that understood?” Macron says in English in video footage from the scene. “We stay calm, we have had a wonderful walk, you do a good job in the city and I appreciate it, but please respect the rules established for centuries, they will not change with me, I can tell you,” he adds.

“It’s France here, and everyone knows the rule,” he says, still in English.

The St. Anne basilica, built by the Crusaders in the 12th century and offered by the Ottoman Empire to France in 1856, is one of four French territories in Jerusalem, AFP notes.

In 1996, Chirac got angry at Israeli soldiers for clinging too close to him and shoving well-wishers, residents and even accompanying journalists away when they tried to shake his hand or get close to him. Chirac famously put a hand on one officer’s shoulder and demanded, “Do you want me to go back to my plane?”

When his procession arrived at the Church of St. Anne, Chirac was angered to find armed Israeli officers inside the church. He demanded they leave before stepping inside himself.

President’s Residence prepares to host world leaders for state dinner

The President’s Residence in Jerusalem is preparing to host dozens of world leaders attending the 5th World Holocaust Forum for a state dinner that begins in less than an hour, at 6:30 p.m.

It may well be the largest diplomatic gathering ever hosted at the residence.

Preparations for the state dinner for dozens of world leaders at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 22, 2020. (Tal Schneider/Globes)
Preparations for the state dinner for dozens of world leaders at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 22, 2020. (Raphael Ahren/The Times of Israel)
Preparations for the state dinner for dozens of world leaders at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 22, 2020. (Tal Schneider/Globes)

IDF says Palestinians who crossed into Israel yesterday planned a terror attack

The Israel Defense Forces believes the three Palestinian teenagers who were shot dead after they crossed the Gaza border fence into Israel last night were planning to carry out a terror attack, IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman says.

The military does not yet know if the three — all of them 17 and 18 years old and from refugee camps near Deir al-Balah in central Gaza — were sent by a Palestinian terror group, but is investigating, Zilberman tells reporters.

Asked if the military anticipated Palestinian terror groups’ rocket fire in response to the incident, he says the IDF is not currently on high alert but is, as always, ready to defend Israel’s airspace.

The army spokesman says the military’s assessment that the three teenagers, who were armed with improvised explosive devices, a knife and a screwdriver, planned to carry out a terror attack was based on the location where they crossed — a portion of the fence near a wooded area that has been used for terrorist infiltrations in the past — and how they acted once inside Israeli territory.

“There are those who cross, then stop; those who cross, then run; and those who cross, then continue like they have a mission. They did the last two things,” Zilberman says.

“This wasn’t a spontaneous crossing,” he adds.

According to Zilberman, the trio were under IDF surveillance from 8:35 p.m., before they crossed into Israeli territory, as they moved toward the security fence. They entered Israel some two kilometers from the community of Kibbutz Kissufim and were quickly surrounded by troops from the Kfir Brigade’s Haruv Battalion and a tank battalion.

“Once they were surrounded, the terrorists realized they’d been spotted and threw two explosives at the troops,” Zilberman says.

The soldiers opened fire, killing the three assailants.

Earlier today, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi met with the soldiers involved in the clash and praised them for their rapid response, Zilberman says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israel Police official says Macron complaint was to Shin Bet, not police

A spokesperson for the Israel Police says the Israeli security agents who aroused French President Emmanuel Macron’s ire at a Jerusalem church earlier today were not from the Israel Police, but from the Shin Bet agency.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, has a unit charged with protecting the top officials of the state and the most senior of visiting leaders.

Macron was angry that Israeli officers assigned to protect him as he toured the Old City of Jerusalem followed him into the Church of St. Anne on the Via Dolorosa, a French territory where Israeli security services have no jurisdiction.

World leaders arrive at President’s Residence for state dinner

World leaders are trickling into the President’s Residence for the imminent start of the largest state dinner ever hosted by an Israeli head of state.

Over 40 leaders, from kings to prime ministers to an American vice president, are expected to attend the dinner, part of Israel’s commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The dinner will feature an address by Holocaust scholar Prof. Yehudah Bauer and musical performances linked to Holocaust commemoration by Israeli artists.

As leaders gather, Speaker Pelosi embraces President Rivlin

Lots of important leaders are already present.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the third-highest American elected official, just walked in and warmly embraced President Rivlin. They stand for some time, longer than other visitors Rivlin has been greeting at the entrance to his official residence.

European Council President Charles Michel is there. Romania’s President Klaus Iohannis too, as well as dozens of others at this point.

The top echelons of Israel just arrived too, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, MK Benny Gantz, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, and more.

Rivlin hosts world leaders with Israeli cuisine and warnings about anti-Semitism

A reminder of what’s actually happening now at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. From a press release by Rivlin’s office earlier this week:

“The International Leaders’ Forum will open with an official dinner.”

“The historic dinner will be served by 200 waiters and servers, and will include typical Israeli dishes that have been specially adapted for the event and will bring the best of Israeli produce to the table.”

“President Rivlin, the official host of the event, will deliver remarks. In addition, His Majesty King Felipe VI of Spain will speak on behalf of the leaders, and Israel Prize laureate and Holocaust expert Professor Yehuda Bauer will speak.”

PM chats with top European official, but won’t sit down with visiting EU chiefs

At the reception for world leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now chatting with Charles Michel, the president of the European Council.

It might be their only meaningful chat during Michel’s visit to Israel, as there is no formal sit-down meeting scheduled. In fact, as our diplomatic correspondent Raphael Ahren points out, Netanyahu is not meeting any of the three European Union chiefs now in town.

Police, Shin Bet say Macron patched things up with Israeli security detail

A joint statement by the Israel Police and the Shin Bet security service says French President Emmanuel Macron and his Israeli security detail patched things up after the brief verbal altercation earlier today at the Church of St. Anne in Jerusalem’s Old City.

“In accordance with the security arrangements coordinated beforehand, the French president and his people were accompanied into the church by a policeman and a member of the Shin Bet,” the statement says.

It adds that the French leader’s team apologized after the fact for the confrontation, sparked when Macron lost his patience over the Israeli guards’ desire to enter the church.

The statement relates that when he left the church, Macron made sure to shake hands with the Israeli personnel before continuing his tour of the Old City, when he was “accompanied by the [Israeli] forces and all the means required to ensure his safety as a senior personage visiting Israel.”

World leaders chatty over Israel’s never-ending election season

It seems the world leaders gathering now in Jerusalem are all curious about Israel’s unprecedented run of three elections in 11 months.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is heard chatting with the presidents of Romania and Cyprus, Klaus Iohannis, and Nicos Anastasiades respectively.

They joke about elections. “Well, I’ve won five of them,” Netanyahu says. The conversation then turns to artificial intelligence and investment opportunities.

A short while later, Netanyahu is chatting with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen when he is heard saying, “Three elections in one year. But I think I can do it.”

Leaders filing into dinner hall, forum set to start

The leaders and dignitaries are filing into the dinner hall. The leadership forum is about to begin.

Rivlin begins his address to world leaders

President Reuven Rivlin is beginning his address to the world leaders, after airing a film of world leaders expressing their commitment to battling anti-Semitism.

Rivlin: This is a historic gathering for all humanity

Rivlin: “On behalf of the State of Israel and the People of Israel, welcome, welcome to Jerusalem. Thank you all for being here. This is a historic gathering, not only for Israel and the Jewish people, but for all humanity.”

Hinting at Russia-Poland row, Rivlin tells leaders history is for historians

Rivlin says: “This evening as we remember the victims of the Holocaust and World War II, we also mark the victory of freedom and human dignity.

“Tomorrow, we will gather at Yad Vashem, to remember and to promise, ‘Never again.’ Yad Vashem is a leading center for Holocaust research and education, guided by historians. Historical research should be left to historians. The role of political leaders, of all of us, is to shape the future. Leave history for the historians.”

Rivlin’s comment is likely a reference to a row between Russia and Poland after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin claimed repeatedly in recent days that Poland’s wartime government sided with the Nazis and had a role in starting WWII. Poland’s President Duda canceled his participation in the forum in Israel this week after his request to deliver an address alongside the address of Putin tomorrow at Yad Vashem was rejected.

Rivlin: ‘The future lies in the choices we make together’

Rivlin: “Tonight we will have the honor of hearing Professor Yehuda Bauer, academic adviser to Yad Vashem, and one of the world’s leading Holocaust experts. At a time when more and more survivors are leaving us, this gathering is an expression of our shared commitment to pass on the historical facts and lessons of the Shoah to the next generation.”

“Your Excellencies, The future lies in the choices we make, especially those we make together as countries and nations. I hope and pray that from this room, the message will go out to every country on Earth, that the leaders of the world will stand united together in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and extremism, in defending democracy and democratic values. This is the call of our time. This is our challenge. This is our choice.”

Musical interlude ‘The Last Survivor’ is a paean to survivors

The gathering of world leaders has just heard the musical interlude, “The Last Survivor,” performed by Israeli musicians Miri Mesika, David D’Or and Amir Benayoun.

The 2014 song was composed by Benayoun with lyrics written by political strategist Moshe Klughaft.

Klughaft told the Ynet news site in a 2018 interview that the song came to him when he imagined a future reality in which “there will only be one Jew left alive who experienced the Holocaust. The song was written with him in mind.”

The lyrics:

I am the last one left, from the depths I call out to you;
My soul calls out for the hope, I stayed alive even though I died.

I am the last one left, I remained a human being even when I was just a number;
A loaf is bread is something that you eat, but under the pillow it I would always keep.

And in the relay race I was left alone;
The torch is relayed now from hand to hand
Take from me everything, I am like the burning bush;
You will remain here to tell the story.

I am the last one left, still attached to the Israelites in the desert;
I have no rest, I wander and roam;
All that remains are the memories from the cattle cars.

I am the last one left, returning now to the provinces of the past;
This grass is green from dread;
I call out to you, Mother Nature.

And in the relay race I was left alone;
The torch is relayed now from hand to hand;
Take everything from me, I am like the burning bush;
You will remain here to tell the story

There are millions of eyes staring at me now, How can I give up?
I am the last one left, to tell the story.

The livestream is now frozen while the first course of the state dinner is served.

Albanian president embraces IDF rescue unit that helped in November earthquake

In Jerusalem for the World Holocaust Forum, one world leader took a detour to meet some IDF soldiers close to his heart.

Albanian President Ilir Meta went to meet and embrace the IDF rescue unit that rushed to the small Balkan nation to help in rescue efforts following the 6.4-magnitude earthquake that struck the country’s north in November, leaving 52 dead and over 3,000 injured.

The IDF posted some photos.

King Felipe VI speaks for world leaders: ‘The world does not forget’

King Felipe VI takes the stage as the designated representative of the gathered world leaders.

He calls the gathering “a remarkable assembly of world leaders committed to memory, to a just cause and to a moral obligation. Seventy-five years later, the world does not forget. The world still remembers.”

King Felipe: ‘Remembrance isn’t enough, we’re never safe from barbarism’

King Felipe VI: “Forgetting the Shoah would not only dishonor the memory of millions of victims, it would also be extremely dangerous.

“But remembrance alone is unfortunately not enough. We also know that barbarism can grow when least expected, even amidst advanced technology and culture. We’re never fully safe from it. And to different degrees we still see it today, hitting hard in various parts of our world.”

Spain’s king: ‘We’re here to fight hatred and lack of human empathy’

The Spanish king’s speech, as handed to the press:

It is a great honor ─ and I am humbled ─ to take the floor this evening when we gather for tomorrow’s Fifth World Holocaust Forum, a remarkable assembly of world leaders committed to memory, to a just cause and to a moral obligation. Thank you, President Rivlin; and thank you for your wise words, always a source of inspiration. I am sure each one of us here would have thoughts to express in this historic event; I will only modestly try to condense some of them.

75 years later the world does not forget, the world still remembers and commits to be vigilant. This is what this impressive gathering here today has decided to state with firmness and clarity.

Our great Jewish thinker Moses Maimonides, born in Sefarad, in the city of Cordoba, wrote in those Middle Ages, following the steps of other outstanding thinkers: “All the great evils which men cause to each other originate in ignorance.” Indeed, humanity has suffered its darkest hours when millions of innocent lives of many walks-of-life and countless communities have been made to disappear abruptly by blind, perverse and ignorant hatred.

Because there is no greater evil than that which stems from ignoring that all women and men are equal, and that every single human being is endowed with the greatest dignity. People cannot show greater recklessness than when they think they are above others, when they feel entitled to discriminate, to condone intolerance or to promote resentment against others for political gain, religious extremism, or racial hatred.

We can find the remedy to such malicious and immoral disregarding of the dignity of “the other,” first-and-foremost, in the example of those who have suffered from its murderous enmity. I am sure Prof. Bauer and Dr. Kantor will speak to us on this matter a million times better than I ever could; and tomorrow at Yad Vashem we will have the honour to meet some of the survivors of the death camps.

For decades, these men and women have enlightened us on the importance of keeping alive the memory of their terrible experience. Forgetting the Shoah, would not only dishonour the memory of millions of victims, but would also be extremely dangerous.

However, we know well that, in spite of all the painstaking effort by those who gave us ─ or still do so today ─ their personal testimony (or from their relatives), of all the powerful inspiration this brings to us, remembrance alone is unfortunately not enough. We also know that barbarism can grow when least expected, even amidst advanced technology and culture. We are never fully safe from it, and in different degrees, we still see it today hitting hard in different parts of our world. We just cannot look the other way; we need to persevere in implementing, teaching and living-by, the principles and values of the International Bill of Human Rights.

We have come today, Mr. President, not only to show our respect for survivors and our repugnance for what happened ─ not that long ago ─ in Auschwitz-Birkenau and many other places.

We are also here ─ perhaps primarily ─ to show our unyielding commitment in bringing all the necessary efforts of our respective countries in order to fight the ignorant intolerance, hatred and the total lack of human empathy that permitted and gave birth to the Holocaust. Because preventing those civilizational sicknesses, is a collective but also an individual responsibility. There is no room for indifference in the presence of racism, xenophobia, hate speech and antisemitism.

Disturbingly, we are currently witnessing a surge of hideous attacks on Jews in several parts of the world. So many times in history, animosity against Jews has shamefully proven to be a symptom and a crude example of intolerance and aversion towards the different others.

Having a precious, rich and complex Jewish past and a vibrant Jewish community, Spain decided to create a solid framework of rules and initiatives to fight relentlessly against antisemitism and every form of xenophobia and racism. There are, of course, many more Nations ─ both present here and others ─ that are making similar efforts and progress; but, while I remain optimistic, I know ─ we all know ─ that we will always need to persevere together so that those words we have repeated so many times, “Never again,” remain our guiding and unwithering principle.


Holocaust scholar: WWII started because of Hitler’s anti-Semitism

Prof. Yehuda Bauer tells the assembled leaders that anti-Semitism is not a threat to the Jews, but to Europe itself. He argues that Adolf Hitler embarked on World War II because of his belief the Jews were controlling the world and had to be stopped.

Besides the roughly six million Jewish dead, he notes, 29 million European non-Jews were killed by the Nazi war machine.

Anti-Semitism is not about the Jews, he concludes.

“There are 29 million [non-Jewish] reasons” to fight anti-Semitism. “Don’t you think 29 million reasons are enough?”

For those interested in the history, Bauer made this case to our diplomatic correspondent Raphael Ahren in an interview published last week.

In the interview, Bauer cited a secret memorandum Hitler wrote to Hermann Goering in August 1936 in which he spoke about the need for Germany to be ready for war within four years. Otherwise, Hitler argued, Jewish Bolshevism will “replace” the German nation.

Raphael writes:

“For a victory of Bolshevism over Germany would not lead to a Versailles Treaty but to the final destruction, indeed to the annihilation, of the German people,” Hitler wrote.

This belief was compounded by a speech Hitler gave in the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, Bauer said during the interview.

“If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war,” Hitler predicted, “then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!”

“In other words,” Bauer explained, “the Jewish capitalists who rule the West are Bolsheviks whose idea is to create a world war so that they can rule the whole world. This was a deeply held belief. And I argue that this was one of the main reasons for the outbreak of World War II, because that clearly identifies the aim — the threat of physical annihilation to German people and therefore preparation for war because otherwise it will be a terrible catastrophe.”

World War II, which raged from 1939 until 1945, eventually caused 29 million non-Jewish victims, apart from the victims of the Holocaust, said Bauer, a professor emeritus of history and Holocaust studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“These 29 million victims died up to a point, and probably mainly, because of anti-Semitism — not because of Jews, but because of the hatred of Jews, which means that anti-Semitism is a cancer that eats society.”

France’s Macron to head to Ramallah for late-night meeting with Abbas

After the leadership forum at President Rivlin’s residence, French President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to head to Ramallah for a 10:30 p.m. meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

World leaders receive ‘compass’ that points toward Jerusalem

The last speaker of the event is Moshe Kantor, a prominent Russian-Israeli-Swiss businessman and founder of the World Holocaust Forum Foundation, who announces a gift to all the world leaders in attendance: a special “compass” that always points to Jerusalem.

It is not clear if the compass points figuratively toward Jerusalem, or if it is a device that literally points toward the actual city of Jerusalem.

Leaders gather for a group portrait as state dinner draws to a close

The leaders are gathering for a group portrait, signaling the end of the largest state dinner ever hosted by an Israeli president. Thirty-nine leaders were at the dinner.

World leaders pose for a group photo at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 22, 2020. (YouTube screen capture)

WWII-era ammunition found at Tesla factory site near Berlin

While world leaders talk about the legacy of the Second World War and the Holocaust in Jerusalem, construction crews in Berlin stumble over another kind of legacy from that war.

AP reports that authorities in Germany say 85 kilograms (187 pounds) of World War II ammunition have been found on the site where Tesla plans to build its first European factory:

Local newspaper Maerkische Oderzeitung quotes officials in Brandenburg on Wednesday as saying they estimate about 25 unexploded bombs could be found at the partially wooded site on the outskirts of Berlin, the German capital.

Thousands of unexploded bombs dropped over Nazi Germany by American, British and Russian forces remain undiscovered even 75 years after the end of the war.

This week alone, bomb squads had to evacuate parts of central Cologne and Berlin to defuse unexploded ordnance found during construction work in those cities.

The site for Tesla’s planned Gigafactory in Gruenheide was recently valued at almost 41 million euros ($45 million). The company wants to start manufacturing 150,000 electric cars a year from mid-2021, with plans to increase that number to half a million annually.

Germany returns artwork stolen by Nazis to French family

BERLIN, Germany — The German government hands three works of art stolen during the Nazi occupation of France back to descendants of their original owner, collector and Jewish lawyer Armand Dorville.

It’s part of a program to return artifacts looted by the Nazis, included two paintings “Dame en robe du soir” (woman in an evening gown) and “Portrait d’une dame” (portrait of a woman) by Jean-Louis Forain. The third is a drawing by Constantin Guys, a Dutch-born Frenchman who worked as a Crimean war correspondent.

They are among hundreds of looted items logged for return to owners or their descendants by German-Austrian collector Cornelius Gurlitt, who died in 2014. The Nazis engaged his father Hildebrand to sell items either stolen or confiscated from Jewish owners.

Dorville died in 1941 and his collection was distributed to museums and private collectors.

The family was unable to flee occupied France and most members were killed by the Nazis, who occupied the country from 1940-1944.

Several close relatives of Dorville’s brother Charles perished at Auschwitz.

“It is no longer possible to make up for the suffering of the Dorville family under the Nazi persecution but we must render them visible and this restitution comprises an important gesture of historic justice,” said German secretary of state for culture, Monika Gruetters.

Investigators discovered some 1,500 works, including drawings and prints by Pablo Picasso, in the house of Cornelius Gurlitt in 2013. To date, just 13 have been returned to the families of their original owners.


Rivlin offered Poland’s Duda to speak at Holocaust forum, Israeli official says

President Reuven Rivlin promised Polish President Andrzej Duda “some kind of platform” to speak if he attended the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, according to a top Rivlin aid.

President’s Residence Director General Harel Tubi has said Rivlin plans to invite Duda to Israel for his own official visit, Israeli media are reporting.

Duda announced earlier this month that he would not attend the forum, which includes some 47 delegations of world leaders, because he was not invited to speak at the main event.

He told Polish media that he had been asking the organizers of the Jerusalem event to allow him to speak during the ceremony as the representative of the country with the “largest number of citizens who were brutally murdered by Nazi Germans in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.” Duda also objects to the fact that the presidents of governments that collaborated with the Nazis will speak.

President Reuven Rivlin, left, with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, April 12, 2018. (Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images/via JTA)

Rivlin will attend the International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Auschwitz on January 27 and will meet with Duda, Tubi said.

Meanwhile, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda announced on Tuesday that he would not attend the meeting in Jerusalem and would send the parliament speaker in his place.

Nauseda gave no reason for his decision to cancel, but an official who spoke with The Times of Israel said it was because Putin was being allowed to speak but not Duda.

— JTA and Times of Israel staff

World Holocaust Forum set to strangle traffic in Jerusalem and beyond

The first part of Israel’s commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz has drawn to a close. The second, larger part, dubbed the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, begins tomorrow at Yad Vashem, and will include US Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain’s Prince Charles and others who will arrive in the morning to join the dozens of world leaders already here.

As police notices make clear tonight, all that welcome attention to the cause of stamping out anti-Semitism and intolerance carries a more prosaic cost to the residents of Israel’s capital who must play host to the largest-ever diplomatic gathering in Israel’s history.

That cost in a word: traffic.

Beginning at 7 a.m., the start of morning rush hour, Route 1 into the capital will be closed to traffic, as Pence and Putin are both landing at Ben Gurion at around 8 a.m. Yes, the main highway into Israel’s mountaintop capital will be closed at the height of the morning rush hour.

As world leaders pass along the route, other areas, including the main entrance to the city, Rabin Boulevard and parts of downtown will be shuttered until about 10 a.m. Roads around the Knesset, such as Rupin and Ben-Tzvi, as well as areas crossing the center of town, including Agron and King David streets, will also be closed for much of the day.

Starting in the afternoon, roads heading to the western reaches of the city, especially around Herzl Boulevard, the main throughfare to Yad Vashem, will be shuttered.

In the evening, the whole cascade of closures will replay itself, only in reverse, as dozens of world leaders head to their planes at Ben Gurion.

The disruption is likely to affect areas far beyond Jerusalem. The traffic corridors to the capital are also vital access routes to several nearby cities, such as Beit Shemesh and Mevasseret Tzion. The closures will also stop public transportation for those hours, upping the number of private cars on alternate roads, and so spreading the traffic troubles ever outward.

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Rivlin: This is a historic gathering for all humanity

Rivlin: “On behalf of the State of Israel and the People of Israel, welcome, welcome to Jerusalem. Thank you all for being here. This is a historic gathering, not only for Israel and the Jewish people, but for all humanity.”