Holocaust Remembrance DayLapid: You don’t fight hate with hate. We will not be like them

PM at Yad Vashem: Oct. 7 was not a Holocaust, but only because Israel can defend itself

Marking Yom Hashoah, President Isaac Herzog also says the Hamas massacre of October 7 ‘echoed the horrors’ of the Holocaust, but does not compare to WWII atrocities

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/ GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/ GPO)

Eight decades after the end of the Holocaust, Israel again faces a “ruthless and brutal” enemy who seeks its destruction, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared at the official state Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem on Sunday evening.

Hamas’s attack against Israel on October 7 was “not a Holocaust — not because of an absence of intention to annihilate us, but because of an absence of ability,” he stated, insisting that the Palestinian terror group had the “same intention” to wipe out the Jewish people as the Nazis.

“The murderers of Hamas are guided by the exact same goal,” although, unlike during the Holocaust, today Israel “has a force that can defend it,” he said, promising to “complete the elimination of [Hamas’s] capabilities” and free the hostages.

To this end, Israel will continue fighting no matter how much pressure is brought to bear to stop the war, he continued.

Responding to reports that the International Criminal Court in The Hague could issue arrest warrants for some of Israel’s top officials — including him — Netanyahu said that such actions “undermine” Israelis’ “most basic right” to defend themselves and would place “a grave stain on the mere concept of international justice.”

Israel fears the arrest warrants will be sought due to the humanitarian crisis amid the fighting in the Gaza Strip, with countries that accuse Israel of breaching international law said to be leading the effort. Jerusalem has also rejected allegations, brought before the International Court of Justice, that it is carrying out a genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

“From here in Jerusalem, I am sending a very clear-cut message: You will not chain our hands, and even if Israel has to stand alone, it will stand alone and will continue to fight our enemies until victory,” Netanyahu declared.

Switching to English in a message to the international community, the prime minister said that during the Holocaust, the Jewish people were “totally defenseless against those who sought our destruction.”

“No nation came to our aid. Today, we again face enemies bent on our destruction,” he said. “I say to the leaders of the world: No amount of pressure, no decision by any international forum, will stop Israel from defending itself. As the prime minister of Israel, the one and only Jewish state, I pledge here today from Jerusalem on this Holocaust Remembrance Day, if Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

Netanyahu continued: “We will defeat our genocidal enemies. Never again is now,” he declared, adding in Hebrew that “during the Holocaust, we were muted and defenseless. We will not go back to those dark times.”

The national ceremony marking the beginning of Yom Hashoah is held at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s comments came only hours after the prime minister — who is under increasing pressure from political allies on the right to invade Hamas’s last stronghold in Rafah — released a video message emphasizing in no uncertain terms that Israel will not accept a hostage-truce deal with Hamas that includes a requirement to end the war.

Herzog: October 7 echoed the horrors

Netanyahu’s juxtaposition of the Holocaust and Hamas’s attack echoed comments made by President Isaac Herzog, who told the same gathering in Jerusalem that “October 7 was not a Holocaust, because today we have the State of Israel and the Israel Defense Forces.”

“Throughout the decades that have passed since the Holocaust, we assured [ourselves] time after time, ‘never again,’ and we swore that the Jewish people would never again stand defenseless and unprotected. And yet, despite all that, the horrors of the Holocaust shook us all during the October massacres, echoing in all our hearts,” Herzog said.

“To me as well, the descriptions of mothers silencing babies so they wouldn’t cry and give away their hiding place; of children torn from their parents; and of abominable murderers — who saw in the Nazis a model to emulate, and who, burnt, and butchered entire families – echoed the horrors among us,” but “it wasn’t a Holocaust — because the Holocaust was the deepest abyss in human history, in every measure,” Herzog stated.

But while October 7 was “the day when the most Jews were murdered and slaughtered in one day since the Holocaust” and “although the results of the tragedy and the shock still haunt us,” Israelis have “what our brothers and sisters who perished in the Holocaust could only dream of, only imagine: a country and an army of our own,” he said.

“I say this with complete and absolute conviction — despite the disaster and mourning that still afflicts us: nothing can destroy this home,” he asserted, calling for the return of the hostages.

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“This people, our people, who endured the most terrible Holocaust of all, and built for themselves sovereignty in their homeland two millennia after being exiled from it by force — nothing can erase them,” added Herzog.

Lapid: You don’t fight hate with hate

Speaking in separate events at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai and the Massuah International Institute for Holocaust Studies in Tel Yitzhak, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid and War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz also linked recent events to the European genocide.

Lapid recalled thinking about his father, Tommy Lapid, as he hid in the basement of his home while “rockets were exploding outside” during the Hamas attack.

“I thought of my father in another basement, the basement of the ghetto, a 14-year-old Jewish boy who knew there was no one to cry out to. There is no army that will come to save him. But it was precisely there, precisely in the ghetto, that hope did not die — it was born,” he said.

“On this Holocaust Remembrance Day, in this place, I came to remind you not of the despair and horror, but of what happened only three years after the Holocaust,” Lapid said — recalling how after the war his father landed in Israel and enlisted in a Jewish army.

“Where will we be in three years? Wherever we choose. If the State of Israel sinks into hatred and fear, then our enemies have won,” he said, insisting that “the Holocaust didn’t just teach us that the Jews needed to have a state and an army.”

“The Holocaust also taught us that this country should be good. You don’t fight hate with hate. We will not be like them. We will not give them the pleasure,” Lapid said.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in southern Israel, May 5, 2024. (Elad Gutman)

“The Jewish people came out of the Holocaust and chose to establish the State of Israel,” Lapid said. “The Jewish people should come out of October 7 with a firm decision to establish a new, stronger, better society here, which will be worthy of the memory of our parents and even more than that — which will be worthy of the lives of our children.”

In his own comments at the Massuah Institute, Gantz stated that the same heroism that motivated Jews to overcome despair and terror during the Holocaust was seen on October 7.

“In the days after October 7, I spoke with hundreds who had gone through hell,” Gantz said. “The phrase ‘second holocaust’ was heard more than once. And the stories were again stories of heroism. Little children who lay in the shelters and conquered fear. Soldiers, police officers, and members of the security and rescue forces or civilians, who fought battles with resourcefulness and courage. Who rescued hundreds, under fire and with ruses. Young people who jumped on grenades in shelters and fought terrorists with their bare hands. People who discovered a mutual responsibility and sacrificed their lives.”

In the days ahead, Israelis will need to muster more such courage to “overcome the anger and rage at freeing heinous murderers and at the postponement of fighting” in order to free the remaining hostages in Gaza, Gantz argued.

The use of rhetoric conflating Hamas with the Nazi party has become increasingly common among Israeli leaders since October 7, including by Netanyahu, who has described the terror group as “the new Nazis.”

Hard-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has gone so far as to use such terminology to refer to Palestinians more broadly, claiming in November that “there are 2 million Nazis” in the West Bank.

And on Sunday evening, Foreign Minister Israel Katz called Hamas “Nazis” in connection with the day’s deadly rocket attack on Kerem Shalom.

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