News Digest — 1/23/20

World Leaders Gather In Jerusalem To Remember Holocaust, Stand Against Anti-Semitism

Dozens of world leaders descended upon Jerusalem on Thursday (23rd) for the largest-ever gathering focused on commemorating the Holocaust and combating modern-day anti-Semitism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, Britain’s Prince Charles, Vice President Mike Pence and the presidents of Germany, Italy, and Austria are among the more than 40 dignitaries attending the World Holocaust Forum, which coincides with the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp.

The three-hour-long event at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial – called “Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Anti-Semitism” – looks to project a united front in commemorating the genocide of European Jewry amid a global spike in anti-Jewish violence in the continent and around the world.

But the unresolved remnants of World War II’s politics permeated the solemn assembly over the differing historical narratives of various players.  Poland’s president, who has been criticized for his own wartime revisionism, has boycotted the gathering since he wasn’t invited to speak while Putin was granted a central role even as he leads a campaign to play down the Soviet Union’s pre-war pact with the Nazis and shift responsibility for the war’s outbreak to Poland, which was invaded in 1939 to start the fighting.

On the eve of the gathering, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin implored world leaders assembled for a dinner at his office residence to “leave history for the historians.”

“I hope and pray that from this room, the message will go out to every country on earth, that the leaders of the world will stand united in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and extremism, in defending democracy and democratic values.  This is the call of our time. This is our challenge. This is our choice,” he said.

“The role of political leaders, of all of us, is to shape the future,” he said.

The event marks one of the largest political gatherings in Israel’s history.  For Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it offered another opportunity to solidify Israel’s diplomatic standing and boost his profile as he seeks re-election on March 2.  He is hoping to use his meetings with world leaders this week to bolster his tough line toward Iran and rally opposition to a looming war crimes case against Israel in the International Criminal Court.

“Iran openly declares every day that it wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth,” he told Christian broadcaster TBN.  “I think the lesson of Auschwitz is that: bad things have to be stopped, and Jews can never be defenseless again, in the face of those who want to destroy them”.



Jews Could Disappear Completely From Europe Says Chairman of World Holocaust Forum

The possibility that Jews could “disappear completely as a people” from Europe has been a central, ominous theme at the center of interviews granted recently by Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress and Chair of the World Holocaust Forum’s Organizing Committee.

The Fifth World Holocaust Forum takes place on Thursday (23rd) in Jerusalem in the presence of dozens of world leaders who are in Israel to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland and to show a resolve to fight a wave of current anti-Semitism.

“It is a possibility that in 30 years there will be no Jews in Europe,” Kantor told Israel’s Army Radio in an interview which aired on Wednesday (22nd).

“Forty percent are considering leaving Europe entirely,” he added, noting that already there is a rate of three percent who are leaving on an annual basis.

“The story should be frightening, because mankind should be frightened,” said Kantor in an interview with French-based AFP news agency earlier this month.

The world is “more dangerous than in the 1930s,” he argued due to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction combined with the phenomenon of “polarization.”

“We do see that the rise of anti-Semitism is a specific feature of the polarization of the political spectrum.  This is exactly the symptom of the global catastrophe which is coming – as society allows extremism to come into executive power in democratic ways,” he told Army Radio.

“Anti-Semitism could be a slippery slope to a global catastrophe,” Kantor warned.

Tel Aviv University researchers reported last year that violent attacks against Jews grew significantly in 2018, with the largest reported number of Jews killed in anti-Semitic acts in decades.



Palestinian Authority Newspaper Calls For Violence To Disrupt Holocaust Event In Jerusalem

The Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper called for violence against Israelis in an effort to disrupt the World Holocaust Forum, currently being held in Jerusalem.

A columnist for Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, in an article over the weekend, said that Israel was planning a ceremony to memorialize Jews killed in Europe even as “the Palestinian holocaust by Israel is ignored.”   

“One shot will disrupt the ceremony and one dead body will cancel the ceremony,” Yahya Rabah wrote in an article published Saturday (18th), according to Palestinian Media Watch. 

In a statement, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned the article saying, “Such a call for violence can never be justified, but it is especially repugnant for the PA to incite terrorism deliberately aimed at disrupting an occasion as solemn and significant as this.”

The statement noted that the day the article was published, a teenage Palestinian assailant stabbed an Israeli man in Hebron.

Meanwhile Israel’s Channel 13 television reported that the Israeli military said it would launch airstrikes in response to any attacks, even if international dignitaries are in the country.

On Tuesday (21st), Hamas praised the launches in recent days of incendiary balloons at Israel, and threatened more.  One with a working explosive attached landed in Beit Shemesh, located 13 miles West of Jerusalem. No injury or property damage was reported.



Polish MEP Tweets Illustration Comparing Holocaust Victims To The Slaughter Of Animals

While world leaders arrived in Jerusalem on Wednesday (22nd) to pay their respects to the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust, European Parliament Member Dr. Sylwia Spurek chose to commemorate the occasion by comparing the murder of Jews to the slaughter of animals.

Taking to Twitter on Tuesday (21st), Spurek shared an illustration by animal rights activist and artist Jo Frederiks where cows wore blue and white striped pajamas emblazoned with a yellow star.  The striped pajamas and star, of course were worn by Jews imprisoned in concentration camps throughout Europe during the Holocaust.

“Jo Frederiks gives food for thought, opens our eyes to how we treat animals…it’s time for a serious discussion about the treatment of animals. The conditions in which they live, and how we kill them.  Is this humane? Is this still agriculture?” she wrote.

Holocaust commemoration activist Jonny Daniels slammed Spurek’s tweet conflating animal rights with the indiscriminate slaughter of a generation of Jews.

“Can you believe that a MEP in 2020, 75 years since the end of the Holocaust, where six million Jews were murdered after being forced to wear that very star, shows the star placed on cows, this is beyond repulsive,” Daniels wrote on Facebook in response.

The activist and founder of the NGO ‘From the Depths,’ also issued a letter to European Parliament David Sassoli urging the leader to take action against Spurek.

“We call upon you to look into the actions of MEP Spurek, shockingly herself a former ombudsman of Poland, for this hateful post, to take any disciplinary actions possible, and to ask that she publicly apologize to the survivors and the families,” he wrote.

“Obviously her intention was to raise a debate about animal rights.  But her post comes days before the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the many issues pertaining to it.  This is not just a lack of judgment, it’s obscene,” he told Israel Hayom.



Masked Gunmen Kill Soleimani’s Sidekick In Iran

Masked gunmen on Wednesday (22nd) ambushed and killed the local commander of a paramilitary security force in southwestern Iran, an associate of Iran’s top general recently killed in an American drone strike in Baghdad, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The slain commander, Abdolhossein Mojaddami, headed the Basij, a parliamentary wing of the Revolutionary Guard used for internal security and their tasks, in the town of Darkhoein.  He was gunned down in front of his home in the country’s oil-rich Khuzestan province.

Two gunmen on a motorcycle, armed with an assault rifle and a hunting rifle, ambushed Mojaddami, IRNA reported.  Other Iranian media said the gunmen’s faces were covered with masks and that four shots were fired.

The case is under investigation and a motive is not clear, but Basij units had been involved in violent clashes with demonstrators in November in which many protesters were either injured or killed.  Amnesty International has reported that more than 300 people were killed in the unrest across the country, though Iran has not announced a death toll.

Mojaddami’s killing is seen as another blow to the Revolutionary Guard, following the death of top general Qassem Soleimani earlier this month in a US drone strike in Iraq.  Mojaddami was described by the IRNA news agency as an associate of Soleimani who was the head of the Quds forces, the foreign wing of the Guard.