After poll on Holocaust ignorance, anti-Semitism in Europe

Rivlin says Israel wants nothing to do with ‘neo-fascists’ who support it

President says far-right movements who back Jewish state are ‘absolutely incompatible’ with its values. ‘Memory is important. We will not compromise for political expediency’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin during an interview with CNN, November 29, 2018. (GPO/Twitter)
President Reuven Rivlin during an interview with CNN, November 29, 2018. (GPO/Twitter)

President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday said Israel must not work with neo-fascist forces — even if they support the Jewish state — because it must take a clear stance against racism and anti-Semitism.

Responding to a CNN survey which raised serious concerns about European adults’ knowledge of the Holocaust and anti-Semitic notions, Rivlin told the network: “We must… work with the whole world to fight against xenophobia and discrimination, of which anti-Semitism is a variant.”

In the interview which was to be broadcast Thursday, the president said “There are neo-fascist movements today that have considerable and very dangerous influence, and sometimes they also express their strong support for the State of Israel.

“You cannot say, ‘We admire Israel and want relations with your country, but we are neo-fascists.’ Neo-fascism is absolutely incompatible with the principles and values on which the State of Israel was founded.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban hold a joint press conference at the Parliament building in Budapest, Hungary on July 18, 2017. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the position of foreign minister, has come under criticism for developing ties with Hungary and Poland, two countries whose leaderships have raised ire in Israel over their embrace of nationalistic policies and their attitudes to the Holocaust.

“I meet leaders from all around the world – presidents and prime ministers,” Rivlin said, “and they tell me that sometimes they need to work with movements like these to build coalitions and that although they are neo-fascists they are great admirers of Israel. I tell them that this is absolutely impossible.”

Rejection of neo-fascists is a key element in confronting anti-Semitism, Rivlin said.

“The fact that the President of Israel says to neo-fascist movements, ‘You are persona non grata in the State of Israel,’ is a statement that fights anti-Semitism in a concrete way. It is a statement that makes clear that memory is important and that we will not compromise for the political expediency of the State of Israel, as Jewish as it is democratic and as democratic as it is Jewish.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his wife lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, on July 19, 2018. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

The CNN survey, published Tuesday, found that over one-fifth of Europeans believe that Jewish people have too much influence in finance and politics, while over a third admitted that they knew nothing at all or “just a little” about the Nazi regime’s murder of six million Jews during World War II.

The poll sampled 7,000 people in Europe, more than 1,000 each from Austria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Poland, and Sweden.

More than a quarter (28%) of those who took part in the online survey said they believed Jews have “too much influence” in business and finance, while 20% felt Jews had the same excessive influence in media and politics.

Concerning the Holocaust, 34% said they knew nothing or “just a little” about the mass murder of European Jews which happened 75 years ago, within living memory.

“As a state that is Jewish and democratic, a place that is open to every Jew in the world, we must say to the world – anti-Semitism is a pestilence, a dread disease, not just for us Jews but for the whole world, and if the world does not confront it, it will corrupt us all,” Rivlin said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki places a candle at a memorial wall with names of some of the Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, at the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Who Saved Jews during WWII, in Markowa, Poland, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. (AP/Alik Keplicz)

Rivlin said that denial of the Holocaust was as “deeply rooted” in anti-Semitism.

“We must fight anti-Semitism by strengthening memory,” the president said. “We must stick to the historical facts, not politicians’ talking points.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who visited Israeli in July, has been hounded by accusations of stifling Hungary’s democracy and stoking anti-Semitism, particularly for his campaign against Jewish philanthropist George Soros and support for rehabilitating the reputation of Miklos Horthy, who deported hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths during the Holocaust.

Poland has raised ire in Israel and the Jewish world with legislative efforts seen as seeking to divorce itself from responsibility in the Holocaust.

Earlier this month a Polish far-right march was attended by the nation’s leaders.

In June Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki ended a diplomatic standoff over a Polish law that made it a criminal offense to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in the extermination of Jews during World War II. The two leaders issued a joint statement which was criticized in Israel for appearing to accept Poland’s official position that it was not in any way responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust.

Hungary’s government on Wednesday earmarked $3.4 million for combating anti-Semitism in Europe.

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