Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday vowed that Israel “will not present its neck for the slaughter in the face of threats of destruction,” criticizing the Iranian regime and rising anti-Semitism — often dressed up as criticism of Israel — as the chief dangers to the Jews and the Jewish state today
Speaking at a state ceremony in Jerusalem marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu singled out a cartoon that appeared in The New York Times as part of “systematic, dishonest vilification” of Israel.
“In exile our abysmal weakness doomed us to our fate,” he said at the Yad Vashem memorial museum. “In our homeland the strength we’ve built has made us a rising world power. Many — a great many — desire closer relations with us.”
But the premier also warned that side-by-side with such great admiration for Israel was “a rising hatred of Jews in certain circles.”
“The extreme right, the extreme left and extremist Islam agree on one thing only: on hatred of the Jews,” he said. “This hatred is expressed in despicable attacks on worshipers at synagogues, as took place a few days ago in San Diego and before that in Pittsburgh; in the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and in the publication of caricatures and article dripping with hate, even in newspapers considered respectable.”
In the latter comment Netanyahu was referring to The New York Times’ publication of a cartoon which the paper has since acknowledged was anti-Semitic and has apologized repeatedly for. The cartoon featured Netanyahu as a dog and wearing a Star of David pendant leading a blind US President Donald Trump, dressed as an Orthodox Jew.
“We are not speaking of legitimate criticism of Israel, I wouldn’t linger on it if it were that,” he said, “But systematic, lying vilification that incessantly undermines the legitimacy of the Jewish nation state, and it alone. It’s an insufferable hypocrisy and cannot be accepted.”
As he has often done in recent years in his speeches marking Holocaust remembrance, Netanyahu framed Iran as the greatest current threat to the Jewish people.
“Iran sends threats of destruction our way day and night. We do not ignore these threats but we are not cowed by them,” he stated. “In the face of Iran our policy is clear. On the military front: resolutely blocking Iran’s attempts to entrench itself militarily near our border. On the political front: pressure, pressure and more pressure.”
He thanked Trump for his policies vis-à-vis Tehran, for quitting the “dangerous” nuclear deal, renewing sanctions and for most recently proclaiming Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terror organization.
“Contrary to what occurred during the Holocaust, we are capable and intent on protecting ourselves, by ourselves,” he said. “Contrary to what occurred during the Holocaust we are building alliances against the dictatorial regime that is threatening us, many nations in our region, international shipping lanes and the security of the entire world.
“To those who wish us ill I say in this of all places, we have returned to the historical stage, to the forefront of the stage. We’ve defeated our enemies before and God willing we’ll beat you too,” he said.
Speaking before him, President Reuven Rivlin seemed to chide Netanyahu for being willing to forge alliances with European governments that have refused to fully account for their crimes during the Holocaust.
No interest and no consideration of realpolitik can justify a dishonorable alliance with racist groups or elements who do not acknowledge their past and their responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust,” he said.
But Netanyahu appeared to push back, touting “unprecedented appreciation [for Israel] in those very same nations whose soil is soaked with the blood of our brothers and sisters.”
Recounting his visits to Holocaust memorials around the world, said he had felt “tremendous pain for the terrible disaster that came upon us” but at the same time “enormous pride to represent our people, which rose from the ashes in our independent nation.”