Today is Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day of mourning to commemorate the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. At the opening ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu painted a bleak picture of the challenges facing the Jewish state, restating the existential threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program and comparing the threat posed by Iran to that faced by Jews in Europe more than sixty years ago.
Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism have been exhibit A in Netanyahu's case that some Israeli foes are implacable. He cites these views about Jews and the Holocaust to denounce nuclear diplomacy with Iran and two-state diplomacy with the Palestinians.
Speaking at Yad Vashem, Netanyahu said:
In this place I have said many times that we must identify an existential threat in time and act against it in time and tonight I ask 'why in the years before the Holocaust did most of the world's leaders not see the danger ahead of time?' In hindsight, all the signs were there…. Has the world learned a lesson from the mistakes of the past? Today we are again faced with clear facts and before a real danger. Iran calls for our destruction, it develops nuclear weapons.
By most accounts, the threats facing Israel from Iran and from Holocaust denial in the region are on the decline. But the increasing acceptance of the Holocaust by Palestinian and Iranian leaders poses a unique challenge to Netanyahu's hard-line policies.
The P5+1 is on the verge of reaching a lasting agreement with Iran that would ensure inspectors access to nuclear facilities and impose verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program.
While Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei continues to deny the Holocaust, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani acknowledged last year that “the Nazis carried out a massacre that cannot be denied, especially against the Jewish people.”
Skeptics, such as the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, said Rouhani’s acceptance of the Holocaust was minimized by suggesting that Jewish Holocaust survivors in Israel were taking vengeance on Palestinians for the Nazis’ crimes. Netanyahu outright rejected Rouhani’s acknowledgement of the Holocaust, tweeting, “… @HassanRouhani, like Ahmadinejad before him, refused to recognize the #Holocaust as an historical fact.”
Answering statements of Holocaust acceptance with denial is becoming a Netanyahu trademark.
Yesterday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas acknowledged the Holocaust as “the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.” Netanyahu responded by accusing Abbas of wanting to “have it both ways” by entering into a pact with Hamas, the militant Islamic group which controls Gaza Strip and declines to acknowledge the Holocaust.
Denying Holocaust acceptance appears to be on the rise for Netanyahu as he struggles to maintain the narrative that Israel is surrounded by forces who deny the veracity of Nazi atrocities against the Jewish people.
Indeed, clinging on to demonizing caricatures of Mahmoud Abbas and Hassan Rouhani is of increasing political necessity as the P5+1 work towards a final agreement with Iran on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program and US-led peace talks falter, leading Secretary of State John Kerry to unleash warnings that Israel is headed toward increased isolation and risks becoming an “apartheid state” if it fails to reach a two-state solution with Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.