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My Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commemoration Was One Long Obscenity; and It’s Not Over

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, May 1, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

Somebody needs to get the hook. Somebody needs to keep my prime minister away from the podium at the national commemoration of the eve of Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, held at the Yad Vashem memorial site in Jerusalem.

No one will, though. We’ll never learn.

Year after year after still another year, as tens and tens of thousands of Holocaust survivors across Israel eke out starkly inadequate meals and go without medication and heat for lack of the assistance my prime minister could have provided them 10 years ago, nine years ago, or ten days ago, he does it again.

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He advances to the microphones with that same chromeplate of self-besotted, transparently over-emotive self-canonization, and tells the survivors how great they have it here, with him in power.

The Holocaust. Like everything else, it’s all about him.

This year, I will freely admit, his address to the aged survivors – “to the Holocaust survivors who, this evening, come before everyone and are above everyone” – stood out from the usual.

It was far, far worse.

It was different, first of all, because of the way he began. In the guise of honoring the six heroic, magnificently vital survivors who were to light memorial torches later in the ceremony, he opened by exploiting them. Some would say, humiliating them. One by one, breathlessly, the consummate over-actor, my prime minister stole their stories before they themselves could tell them, finding some way, through it all, to interpose himself and his wife into the narrative.

It was one long self-serving obscenity. And he was just warming up.

Missing not a beat, my prime minister segued directly into a version of the relentlessly repeated stump speech of his recent campaign – and, who knows, in a few months, perhaps of his next one as well.

Relating how he and his wife have busied themselves recently visiting European capitals and sites of annihilation, he remarked that abroad, “Israel today is the object of unprecedented admiration – and, I am not exaggerating when I say, unprecedented adulation.”

Then, without the merest trace of irony or concern for offending survivors and world Jewry alike, he continued: “In the Diaspora, our abysmal weakness left us abandoned to our fate. In the Homeland, the might we have built has turned us into a rising world power. Many, many desire to be close to us.”

Among those who want to be close, his remarks made clear, were the far-right regimes of Hungary and Poland, who have been less than zealous in acting to curb neo-Nazi anti-Semitism.

Moreover, to assure that partisan politics both here and abroad would further divide the Jewish world during an observance meant to foster unity and universalism, it was now time to dis Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and American Jewry as a whole, by dropping the biggest name of all:

“There were years in which we struggled all by ourselves, alone against the entire world, fighting the dangerous nuclear agreement with Iran. But our stubborn insistence bore fruit. We highly esteem the determined stance of President Trump, who withdrew from the nuclear agreement, imposed heavy sanctions on Iran and, a few days ago, declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization.”

In closing, my prime minister saved the biggest insult for last. He referred to his late father, saying that “my father went through two world wars, and was greatly active for the sake of Zionism.” He went on to quote his father as saying that danger must be confronted by looking it straight in the eye.                                                                

Only one problem here. My prime minister’s father, who enjoyed unusual privilege as the secretary to right-wing Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, spent the Second World War years in New York, moving to Israel only at the close of the 1948 Mideast war.

Actually, that’s not the only problem here. Over the years, my prime minister has evolved into Israel’s No.1 Holocaust exploiter. He has co-opted and contorted history itself for his own political ends, even, at one point, declaring falsely that Hitler did not want to exterminate the Jews, but was rather persuaded to do so by the then-Palestinian leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem.

The obscenity of all this is far from over. And, yes, I’ve learned to accept that a man who has gotten away with exploiting and ignoring and mistreating Holocaust survivors for ten years in a row, feels with some justification that he can get away with anything.

But he’s no prime minister of mine.

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