President Rivlin at Holocaust Day Ceremony: Not Every Criticism of Israel Equals anti-Semitism

At official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, Prime Minister Netanyahu says world not doing enough to prevent genocide, mass murder in Syria and Sudan

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, April 23, 2017 in Jerusalem.
President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, April 23, 2017 in Jerusalem. Olivier Fitoussi

President Reuven Rivlin said on Sunday that it was wrong to think that every criticism of Israel constitutes anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the world is not doing enough to prevent mass murder and genocide today, in places such as Sudan and Syria.

>> President Rivlin courageously challenges Netanyahu's darkness and despair

Both men were speaking at the state ceremony marking the start of the commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. It began on Sunday at 8 P.M. at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and memorial.

President Rivlin speaking at Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony

The memorial torch was lit by Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev and Esther Miron, a Holocaust survivor.

Rivlin said in his remarks that not every criticism of Israel constitutes anti-Semitism. The president rejected the approach according to which "the justification for the existence of the State of Israel is the prevention of the next Holocaust," and "every threat to Israel is a threat to survival, every Israel-hating leader is Hitler." (READ FULL TRANSCRIPT)

But Rivlin also rejected what he called the universal approach, which views the Holocaust as "just one specific occurrence of genocide" that targeted the Jewish people. This approach, the president said, "downplays the Shoah. It distorts history. It denies the program of systematic extermination that was aimed specifically at the Jewish People. It denies anti-Semitism, a malignant disease that is two thousand years old."

Netanyahu speaks at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

A third way

Continuing, Rivlin offered a third approach, one that is built on self-defense, on the shared destiny of the Jewish people and the "sacred obligation" to remember that all human beings were created in God's image.

Points of light in the darkness

In Netanyahu's remarks, he said: "We must admit that the response is mainly negative. Although since World War II no tragedy has approached the dimensions of the Holocaust, there are many cases where the world stands idly by and does not prevent genocide, does not prevent mass murder. In Cambodia, in Rwanda, in Sudan … and also in Syria," Netanyahu said.

"And still, within the darkness there are a few points of light," the prime minister said. "One of is happening now, and it is the resolute response of President Trump to the massacre of children in Idlib, Syria."

Continuing, Netanyahu said, "Israel has treated thousands of injured Syrians, including many Jews who were hurt in that vicious war, but in general in our world today the weak have a difficult time. In the face of murderous states, their chances of survival are poor. The strong survive, the weak are erased. The lesson is in front of our eyes, and it is that we must be capable of defending ourselves, by ourselves, from any threat, from any enemy. Those that intend to destroy us place themselves in danger of being destroyed.

"That is the only way to genuinely guarantee our future, and we have the power to do it. I say these things with all my heart, because this lesson guides me every day, every morning, every night. That is the supreme duty — not the sole duty, but the primary and the highest duty of every Israeli prime minister," Netanyahu said.

"I say this in the memory of the victims, and I say it on behalf of you, members of the Jewish people, citizens of Israel, and among you the precious survivors of the Holocaust. This is how we, the generations who built and do build the State of Israel, create the great change in Israel. We replace weakness with power," Netanyahu said.

The theme of this year's Holocaust Remembrance Day is remembering the story of the individual in the Holocaust. In accordance with custom, six Holocaust survivors lit torches in memory of the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. The story of each of the six was shown on a screen during the ceremony.

On Monday at 10 A.M., a siren will sound to announce a two-minute silence throughout the country, followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the foot of Yad Vashem's Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial.

From 11 A.M. to 2:30 P.M., Yad Vashem will open its doors to visitors for a series of talks by museum experts who will present documents, works, objects and artifacts that are not otherwise on display to the public. 

Also at 11 A.M., at Yad Vashem's Hall of Remembrance, as well as in the Knesset, the names of victims of the Holocaust will be read out by members of the public as part of the "every person has a name" initiative. In the afternoon there will be a gathering of youth movements.