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Rivlin at Yad Vashem warns realpolitik cannot justify allying with far-right

President accuses European leadership on right and left of becoming permeated with anti-Semitism, denounces violence in US

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during the official ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, May 1, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin speaks during the official ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, May 1, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday warned the government against forging alliances with far-right politicians in Europe, as Israel marked 74 years since six million Jews were murdered across the continent in the Holocaust.

Speaking at the official ceremony at Yad Vashem marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rivlin also raised alarm over a spike in violence directed against Jews in the US and Europe, days after a white nationalist gunman opened fire inside a California synagogue, killing a worshiper.

Rivlin said although Europe had become a model of democracy and liberalism in the decades following World War II, the continent was now seeing a reemergence of “the ghosts of the past.”

“Ideas of superiority, national purity, xenophobia, blatant anti-Semitism from left and right are hovering over Europe,” he said.

He criticized Israel’s diplomatic drive to forge ties with right-wing governments in Europe, some of which refuse to own up to atrocities committed 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.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 20, 2018. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

Rivlin did not name any specific political figures in Europe but appeared to be referring to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party. Both have been accused of distorting their countries’ roles in the Holocaust.

Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has developed close ties with Hungary and Poland as well as other states with nationalist leaders, a diplomatic approach he has at times come under fire for over matters pertaining to the Holocaust.

Netanyahu and his allies have defended the alliances as important for securing support for Israel in international bodies.

In his own speech following Rivlin, the prime minister mentioned an anti-Semitic cartoon that appeared in The New York Times and called Iran a greater threat than rising attacks against Jews in the West.

The cartoon, which was published on Thursday and for which the Times has since apologized, was followed days later by a deadly shooting at a Chabad synagogue outside San Diego by a white nationalist gunman. The juxtaposition has underlined disputes in the US and Israeli Jewish communities of whether the right or left is to blame for anti-Semitism.

Flowers and signs sit at a memorial across the street from the Chabad of Poway synagogue, on Sunday, April 28, 2019, in Poway, California. A man opened fire Saturday inside the synagogue near San Diego, as worshipers celebrated the last day of a major Jewish holiday. (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

A report released this week by the ADL pointed to a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the US, the vast majority of them by white supremacists.

Rivlin ascribed blame to both sides in his speech at Yad Vashem.

“From the right and the hard left anti-Semitism is permeating the heart of European leadership and we see record levels of anti-Semitic attacks in Britain and in France,” Rivlin said.

“We no longer need to convince anyone that the weasel words of the anti-Zionist hard left that the only way Israel has a right to exist is by no longer being a Jewish State are anti-Semitic. More and more of our allies around the world see and understand that,” he said.

“There is no such thing as loving Israel and hating Jews, just like there is no such thing as loving Jews and hating Israel. The game is up. The masks have been torn off,” he said.

Though not fearful for the security of Israel or the Jewish people, Rivlin said the country has a duty to speak out against anti-Semitism in whatever form it takes.

“Every country and society has the legitimate right and even the duty to choose its policy and to protect its identity,” he said.

President Reuven Rivlin, right, with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“Anti-Semitism in all forms, racism and xenophobia, are anathema to the values, principles and spirit upon which the State of Israel was established. We do not forget and we do not forgive,” he said, in an apparent dig at recent comments by Brazil’s pro-Israel President Jair Bolsonaro. “Our past must be the basis for our values, for our actions and for the alliances we make. That is our history and our heritage.”

Holocaust Remembrance Day, one of Israel’s most solemn holidays, began Wednesday at sundown and will run until nightfall Thursday.

Rivlin said he would host world leaders at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem next January to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, with a focus on combating anti-Semitism, racism and Holocaust denial.

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