Bennett urges unity, rejects Holocaust comparisons as Israel marks Memorial Day 2022-04-27 13:24:00


Israel’s leaders demanded an end to political divisions and warned against anti-Semitic rhetoric or attempts to compare the massacre of Europe’s Jews with other atrocities, as the nation paused to commemorate the victims of the Nazi death machine to commemorate the Holocaust Wednesday night.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog focused on one separate Holocaust incident to evoke the greater and incomprehensible horror of the Nazi genocide while speaking at Yad Vashem, Israel’s National Holocaust memorial and museum.

Bennett, who retains power despite losing his parliamentary majority, criticized the politics and tribalism that tore Israel apart in recent years. He noted that divisions between right and left ideologies had strained relations between Jews during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Even in the darkest days of Jewish history, in the inferno of destruction, the left and the right failed to cooperate. Each group fought alone against the Germans.

We must not dismantle Israel from within. Today, thank God, we have in the State of Israel one army, one government, one parliament and one people – the people of Israel.”

Bennett’s comments, which he said are “particularly important these days,” came a day after police said they were investigating a letter with death threats and sent a live bullet to the prime minister and his family, prompting officials to step up family security.

German SS soldiers take a group of Polish Jews for deportation, April/May 1943, during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by German forces after an uprising in the ghetto, 1943. (AP Photo)

His Minister of Religious Affairs has also received death threats since taking office, and some members of his right-wing factions and some members of right-wing factions have been branded traitors for their work with parties across the corridor.

The political scene in Israel has been markedly chaotic and divided in recent years. Bennett’s fragile and disparate coalition was formed after a series of stinging and inconclusive elections over the course of two years. The government is now at stake after a member of his party resigned under pressure from the right-wing opposition, stripping the coalition of its majority.

Bennett also rejected comparisons to the Holocaust, which had become commonplace in the vicinity of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Last month, some Israeli lawmakers criticized Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky when he compared his country to the Holocaust during a speech to Israeli politicians.

A ceremony held at Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates Holocaust Remembrance Day. April 27, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“The Holocaust is an unprecedented event in human history. I take the trouble to say this because as the years go by, more and more serious events are compared to the Holocaust,” Bennett said.

“But no, even the most dangerous wars today are not the Holocaust and not like the Holocaust,” he said, without directly mentioning Ukraine.

“No event in history, however cruel, can compare to the destruction of the Jews of Europe at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators,” Bennett said.

History is littered with disasters, he said, but the Holocaust stands apart in its sole aim of ethnic genocide.

“Never, anywhere or at any time,” he said, “that one nation has worked to destroy another, in such a planned, systematic and ruthless manner, entirely because of ideology and with no other purpose.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 27, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The lesson of the Holocaust for him, he said, is that while “we have friends, we have allies close and far, and that’s fine, but in the end, the Jewish people, the State of Israel, must always be responsible for their fate.”

Bennett may have been referring to the threat posed by Iran to Israel, suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons. Israel has warned for years that it will not accept a nuclear-armed Iran and has committed to preventing Tehran from building atomic weapons.

Jerusalem has strongly opposed the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran and has said reactivating the original agreement is not enough to reduce the threat.

In light of the growing uncertainty, in recent months the Israeli military has intensified its efforts to prepare for a credible military threat against Tehran’s nuclear facilities. In October, The Times of Israel learned that the Israeli Air Force would do so Start practicing the strike on Iran’s nuclear program in 2022, having allocated funding and updated its training schedule for the mission. In February, a US official said that he had He attended a secret Israeli maneuver Simulating a “mass attack” on Iran’s nuclear program

The United States said that see “face to face” with Israel on Iran.

Speaking Wednesday night at Yad Vashem, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that “the task of protecting the Israeli people is stronger than any ideological debate” and is no less important than “Israel’s willingness to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.”

Israeli officials often mention the security threats the country faces in their Holocaust Remembrance Day speeches, Gantz said, “particularly Iran, which seeks to acquire nuclear weapons and becomes an existential threat to us.

Indeed, the State of Israel should have both military power and moral force on its side. This strength and morality stems from our ability to live as a strong and cohesive community, not as a scattered people in a diaspora, divided and separated. Our resilience as a society empowers us and justifies our existence,” Gantz added.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 27, 2022 (Bruno Sharvit/GPO)

In his speech on Wednesday, Bennett used Baby Girl’s “witness paper,” an official document from Yad Vashem that lays out key biographical details of a Jew killed in the Holocaust, to illustrate the depth of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Bennett noted that the girl’s first name was blank on the paper, her last name Reich, and her place of birth and place of death were listed as Auschwitz.

The Prime Minister read: “The circumstances of her death: taken immediately from her mother.” Age at death: Half an hour.

The paper was filled by her mother, Erin Reich.

Herzog used a photograph of Nazi soldiers and Ukrainian militia executing a Jewish family on the edge of a ditch in Mariupol, Ukraine in 1941 to elicit the horrors of the Nazi genocide during his speech.

In the photo, a mother is holding her young son’s hand, as she leans towards him, as the men shoot her in the back of the head. The boy was barefoot and looking toward the trees.

The smoke from the shooting hides the mother’s face in a ghostly column. Another child in her lap, barely visible in her polka dot skirt. The killers seem to be enjoying themselves.

“What did the mother whisper in her little boy’s ear? Did she beg him not to cry? What about the child? Did he cry? Did he remain silent? Did he understand? Was he afraid?” said Herzog. The picture is muted, but the sound is loud. It shakes us. The silence amazes us.”

The Holocaust massacre perpetrated by Germans and Ukrainians in Mariupol, Ukraine, on October 13, 1941.

The image was the centerpiece 2021 book “The Ravine” by historian Wendy Lauer. Herzog said he felt “sad, anger and pain” when he saw the picture in the book.

The Nazis killed more than a million Jews in the Holocaust, shooting them in woods and fields, far from the infamous death camps.

Referring to the state of Israel as a “beacon” for world Jewry after the Holocaust, Herzog said that rhetoric questioning Israel’s right to exist was “not legitimate diplomacy but pure anti-Semitism, which must be uprooted.”

President Isaac Herzog addresses a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel celebrates its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. April 27, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“We must make it clear that even today, eight decades after the darkest abyss in human history, the anti-Semitism that threatens our people is a crime against humanity,” Herzog said.

The speeches came as Israel and Jewish communities around the world began 24 hours of commemorating the victims of the Nazi genocide.

The annual Memorial Day is one of the most celebrated days in the Israeli national calendar. Much of the country will be closed and will stop moving for two minutes to sound the siren at 10 am on Thursday.

The Jewish community has been struggling in recent years over how to memorialize and educate future generations about the genocide in the coming decades, as the number of survivors dwindles.

The Ministry of Social Equality said on Wednesday that there are 161,400 Holocaust survivors living in Israel.

The average age of Holocaust survivors is 85.5, of whom 31,500 are over the age of 90 and more than 1,000 people have lived for more than a century.

Over the past year, 15,553 survivors died in Israel, an average of more than 42 per day.

On Wednesday, Bennett hosted a Holocaust survivor in his office as part of an annual series of events called Zikron Basalon (Living Room Memory), where survivors gather in intimate spaces to tell their stories.

Bennett hosted a survivor from Poland named Alisa Landau, who said she hid in the woods when she was six with her brother and father.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hosts Holocaust survivor Alisa Landau at the Zikaron Basalon Holocaust memorial event, April 27, 2022 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

One morning, she found her father crying. He said her brother died of starvation and sent her to some nearby houses in search of food.

He told her, “You will go, you will live and you will start our family again.”

“I fulfilled my father’s wish — I started a family. I have three children and seven grandchildren,” Landau said at the meeting with Bennett. “This is my personal victory over the Nazis.”