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Thank You, Dear Leaders, for Mentioning the Holocaust

Zvi Bar'el
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Visitors at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.
Visitors at Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.Credit: AFP
Zvi Bar'el

If Russian President Vladimir Putin pardons Naama Issachar, it will be cause for jubilation. The joy will be that much greater if, when he lands in Israel Thursday, “our” Naama (we’ve grown close enough to use just her first name) walks out of the plane with him. What could be more symbolic than Naama’s release on the same day as the Fifth World Holocaust Forum in Israel, close to the launch of the Likud election campaign? Then, standing beside world leaders and other officials, and before hundreds of journalists (the Russian delegation alone includes 95 reporters accompanying the freedom-of-expression-loving leader), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could rightly reap the rewards of the national event. For he promised and might also deliver; if not, he certainly spared no effort to meet his commitment. A genuine redeemer of captives, “a leader in a different league,” to use his campaign slogan.

There’s no denying the importance of the forum, even if much of its funding comes from Russian oligarch Moshe Kantor, who donated 40,000 shekels ($11,500) to Netanyahu’s 2012 election campaign (TheMarker Hebrew, January 20). Israel has never hosted a gathering of this magnitude, not even for the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and of Shimon Peres. It was fascinating to read what Galit Cohen, director of the Foreign Ministry’s department for visiting dignitaries, told Maariv about the leaders’ requests, allergies (“Putin’s office did not report any allergic sensitivities”) and the itineraries they requested – like a school field trip.

There could be no more impressive demonstration of support for Israel and the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu. What difference does the occupation make and so what if the prime minister has three indictments hanging over him? Will Prince Charles make his visit contingent upon a peremptory ruling in the prime minister’s favor? Will Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili mention the occupation in her speech? After all, her own country endured (Russian) occupation. Don’t hold your breath. What does occupation have to do with the war on anti-Semitism? The French parliament already explained to the world that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism, and Netanyahu insists that opposition to the settlements is a form of anti-Zionism. So, that takes care of the whole occupation thing.

Then maybe someone in Putin’s entourage will whisper in Netanyahu’s ear that someone who seeks the release of a young Israeli who was tried and sentenced by a Russian court in accordance with Russian law could at least release the bodies of Palestinians to their families, and someone who complains about the Russian justice system would do well to apply the same magnifying glass to the military justice system in the territories.

And maybe someone could remind Putin, who is coming to dedicate a memorial to the victims of the Nazi siege of Leningrad, that – not that there’s any comparison, of course – that there is also some kind of siege going on, and maybe he could quote Moshe Leon, who said, “As the mayor of Jerusalem, which has past experience of a siege, I feel a deep solidarity with the indescribable suffering of people of Leningrad, and with the supreme acts of courage by the city’s defenders.” The suffering of the 2 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip is a matter for a different forum – the forum of the general staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

OK, enough with the comparisons, especially when we’re talking about such a solemn occasion. These eminent leaders are coming to honor the memory of the Holocaust and to fight anti-Semitism, not to deal with trivial matters.

How easy it is to assemble kings, presidents, prime ministers and oligarchs to honor the memory of the Holocaust. But these are the same leaders who were unable to halt the slaughter in Syria, to end the brutal war in Yemen or to put an end to the Israeli occupation in the territories. The lofty World Holocaust Forum apparently has a chronic allergy to regional and international conflicts. Memorials are its forte. It will always be happy to show solidarity with those who were killed and to exercise its conscience after the fact.