Israel’s bigwigs attacked at dawn on a wide front. The president in Germany, the prime minister with a giant entourage in Poland, the foreign minister in Hungary, his deputy in Slovakia, the culture minister in France, the information minister at the United Nations, and even the Likud party’s Druze Knesset member, Ayoob Kara, in Italy. They were all out there to make florid speeches about the Holocaust.
Yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and an Israeli public relations drive like this hasn’t been seen for ages. The timing of the unusual effort – never have so many ministers deployed across the globe – is not coincidental: When the world is talking Goldstone, we talk Holocaust, as if out to blur the impression. When the world talks occupation, we’ll talk Iran as if we wanted them to forget.
It won’t help much. International Holocaust Remembrance Day has passed, the speeches will soon be forgotten, and the depressing everyday reality will remain. Israel will not come out looking good, even after the PR campaign.
On the eve of his departure, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at Yad Vashem. “There is evil in the world,” he said. “Evil must be stamped out at the beginning.” Some people are “trying to deny the truth.” Lofty words, said by the same person who only the day before, not quite in the same breath, uttered very different words, words of true evil, evil that should be extinguished at the start, evil that Israel is trying to hide.
Netanyahu spoke of a new “migration policy,” one that is evil through and through. He malevolently lumped together migrant workers and wretched refugees – warning that they all endanger Israel, lower our wages, harm our security, make us into a third-world country and bring in drugs. He zealously supported our racist interior minister, Eli Yishai, who has spoken of the migrants as the spreaders of diseases such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, AIDS and God knows what else.
No Holocaust speech will erase these words of incitement and slander against migrants. No remembrance speech will obliterate the xenophobia that has reared its head in Israel, not only on the extreme right, as in Europe, but throughout government.
We have a prime minister who speaks about evil but is building a fence to prevent war refugees from knocking at Israel’s door. A prime minister who speaks about evil but shares the crime of the Gaza blockade, now in its fourth year, leaving 1.5 million people in disgraceful conditions. A prime minister in whose country settlers perpetrate pogroms against innocent Palestinians under the slogan “price tag,” which also has horrific historical connotations, but against whom the state does virtually nothing.
This is the prime minister of a state that arrests hundreds of left-wing protesters against the injustices of the occupation and the war in Gaza, while time grants mass pardons to the right-wingers who demonstrated against the disengagement. In his speech yesterday, Netanyahu’s equating Nazi Germany with fundamentalist Iran was no more than cheap propaganda. Talk about “degrading the Holocaust.” Iran isn’t Germany, Ahmedinejad isn’t Hitler and equating them is no less spurious than equating Israeli soldiers with Nazis.
The Holocaust must not be forgotten, and there is no need to compare it with anything. Israel must take part in the efforts to keep its memory alive, but in doing so it must show up with clean hands, clean of evil of their own doing. And it must not arouse suspicion that it is cynically using the memory of the Holocaust to obliterate and blur other things. Regrettably, this is not the case.
How beautiful it would have been if on this international day of remembrance Israel had taken the time to examine itself, look inward and ask, for example, how it is that anti-Semitism has reared its head in the world precisely in the past year, the year after we dropped white-phosphorous bombs on Gaza. How beautiful it would have been if on this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Netanyahu had declared a new policy for integrating refugees instead of expulsion, or lifted the Gaza blockade.
A thousand speeches against anti-Semitism will not extinguish the flames ignited by Operation Cast Lead, flames that threaten not only Israel but the entire Jewish world. As long as Gaza is under blockade and Israel sinks into its institutionalized xenophobia, Holocaust speeches will remain hollow. As long as evil is rampant here at home, neither the world nor we will be able to accept our preaching to others, even if they deserve it.