Exposing anti-Semitism should not be at the center of Israel’s overseas public information campaign, and leaders visiting the country should not be taken first to the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at Yad Vashem, Dr. Iddo Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s younger brother, told a conference Wednesday.
Leaders do not visit the country to feel pity for the Jewish people, but to explore how connections with the Jewish state could further their own national interests, he said in an online Independence Day lecture about anti-Semitism.
Netanyahu — a radiologist, author and playwright — also charged that the Jewish Agency was giving double messages to Diaspora Jews by encouraging them to immigrate to Israel while also assuring them that it was doing everything possible to deal with anti-Semitism in their home countries.
Putting so much emphasis on the fight against anti-Semitism could create “false hope” among Diaspora Jews, he said.
Noting that anti-Semitism — often associated with Christianity — had, in fact, predated it, that it was still very much alive on US campuses and in Muslim circles and was even flourishing during the coronavirus pandemic, Netanyahu said that while lies had to be challenged and exposed, it was “deluded” to assume that the phenomenon could be rooted out and it was a mistake to focus so much time and effort on combatting it.
The average non-Jew in the world did not care whether a particular leader was, or was accused of being, an anti-Semite, he went on. The important thing was to explain the facts underlying the subject, rather than to hurl accusations of anti-Semitism. It only weakened Israel’s ability to state its case to citizens of other countries, and to their leaders, Netanyahu said.
For decades, every world leader visiting Israel had been taken, first, to Yad Vashem, he said.
“He goes around, sees the terrible exhibits and photographs, which he’s probably already seen, and what goes through his mind? He thinks we’re looking for pity. And pity is the last thing that interests him as a leader of a country. He may feel pity for the Jewish People,” Netanyahu said. “But that’s not why he’s come to Israel… What interests him, in his capacity as a representative of his country, is how he can help his country’s interests.”
Yad Vashem was an essential institution, he said, “But it’s not fitting for the sovereign state of Israel to take every leader, first thing, to Yad Vashem, so that he’ll see the ghastly pictures of Auschwitz.”
He referenced Theodor Herzl, the father of modern political Zionism: “When Herzl met leaders in Europe and Turkey, he explained the Zionist idea to them and talked to them about one thing – the interests of their countries and empires — why, for their own sakes, they should support Zionism and give the Jews a state. He didn’t say, ‘look how much the Jews are suffering, so help us.’ He didn’t say this once. If he talked about anti-Semitism, it was only to warn them that it could drive Jews to join anarchist and revolutionary forces and that that could lead to their countries’ destruction. And in that he was right. We should take Herzl’s example and behave in the same way.”
Asked what alternative he would suggest to Yad Vashem, Netanyahu suggested that the country build a large, new, national site. He also said leaders could be taken to Mount Herzl — the site of Israel’s military cemetery, where Herzl is also buried, the Israel Museum, Masada, or the Western Wall, “and also to Yad Vashem, but not as the main, first thing. It’s not right, not appropriate and not helpful.”
Netanyahu’s lecture was broadcast by Israel2030, an organization launched last month, whose aims include extending Jewish sovereignty to the West Bank; reforming the justice system and putting an end to judicial activism; making the government bureaucracy more efficient and transparent; and ensuring that 2018’s nation-state law, which officially defines Israel as the Jewish nation-state, be ingrained in the education system, the institutions of the country, and Israel’s relations with the Jewish Diaspora.