Opinion

In Netanyahu's Israel, Holocaust Remembrance Day Rings False

How, apparently in the name of avoiding a demographic precedent, can Israel hold up a decision on allowing just 100 Syrian orphans to stay here. Do we really need to think twice?

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a ceremony at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem marking Holocaust Remembrance Day April 12, 2010.
REUTERS/Baz Ratner

This Sunday night and Monday, the Israeli calendar will mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoa.

The Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu will not. Not in any real sense.

True, there will be ceremonies and speeches. There will be air-raid sirens calling an entire citizenry to stop in place and stand at attention. There will be mournful cello solos and a paratroop honor guard and soul-lacerating documentaries filling the airwaves.

But Netanyahu, true to form, will go on his way. 

Part of it you probably already know, because it's been going on for years. It's the part that goes like this:

If the Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu were to relate to Yom Hashoa in any real sense – other than the prime minister's televised annual campaign-style speech at the central commemoration - there is no way that tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors living here would have been abandoned to eke out the last years of their lives in abject poverty, forced to choose between buying medications and buying food, forced to decide between adequate heating and adequate clothing.

It's a disgrace. It's certainly a disgrace to the memory of the Holocaust. It's a particular disgrace because the funds to help these survivors always existed, but were siphoned off to pay the inflated salaries of bureaucrats at non-profits, in at least one major case, fraudulently. Government funds, meanwhile, were in many cases lost to waste, or diverted to other purposes, more politically expedient.

It's a disgrace we've come to know. And, perhaps because of that, it's a disgrace which, horribly, we've come to be able to live with.

But what about the Holocaust occurring just to the north of us? What about Syria? 

To their great credit, the army and Israeli hospitals have evacuated and treated some 2,800 Syrians wounded in the conflict. The wounded are then returned to Syria.

Still, there remains the question of whether we are doing enough, and how we could do more.  

A recent proposal by Interior Minister Arye Dery and Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky to permanently accept 100 Syrian war orphans has run aground.

Netanyahu and other ministers have reportedly shelved the proposal, because it would entail providing permanent residency status to the refugee orphans.

It's time to ask the prime minister who cites the Holocaust with such frequency and fluency: What has it taught you?

A clue may perhaps be found in the words of one of Netanyahu's prominent explainers, commentator Caroline Glick.

Appearing on Israel Channel Two's morning talk show earlier this month, Glick was asked by anchor Avri Gilad, son of a concentration camp survivor, about Israel's relative non-involvement as the Syrian genocide proceeded.

AVRI GILAD: "Can a people which has survived the Holocaust simply stand by and watch while children of another people, and innocent adults as well, are being annihilated by being gassed? That is the question."

CAROLINE GLICK: "Of course we can. After all, for us in Israel, the lesson of the Holocaust is not that we have to save everyone from all sorts of terrible things happening to them, rather that we have to take care of ourselves.

"For us, the lesson of the Holocaust is that we must never return to a situation where we need to pray that the righteous of other nations will come to save us. We can't live in that situation."

I'm not arguing that Israel militarily intervene in Syria. I am asking why, apparently in the name of avoiding a demographic precedent, the Netanyahu government can hold up a decision on allowing just 100 Syrian orphans to stay here. Do we really need to think twice?

This is what I'm really asking: What kind of man does this? What kind of people are we, that we let him? 

We even honor him in the name of the Jewish people he presumes to speak for, in whose name he presumes to act. As if he knows something, anything, about the concept of HaLev HaYehudi - what it means to see and feel and act with a compassionate Jewish heart.

Netanyahu knows where he can make a start. By coming to the aid of 100 Syrian orphans, and of thousands of needy Holocaust survivors. By coming to their aid, that is, before it's too late.