Holocaust Memorial Day: A Day of Warning

Holocaust Memorial Day: A Day of Warning

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

It seems that Israel now injects contemporary politics even into the midst of Holocaust Memorial Day. There was a major sense in both the Capitol Rotunda in Washington today and at Yad-Vashem in Jerusalem on Wednesday night that the theme for this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies was to connect the horrors of the Nazis to the potential threat to Israel’s survival presented by Iran. 

Speaking in Jerusalem, President Peres devoted approximately a paragraph to Iran while Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly devoted two-thirds of his remarks to the Iranian threat and the potential Holocaust analogy. Ambassador Michael Oren, while speaking at the congressional memorial in Washington devoted a major portion of his speech as well to comparing the language and the speech of Iranian leaders to that heard in pre-war Germany. It is worth noting that Eli Wiesel was reported to have had a reaction similar to that of Peres in not wanting to exaggerate the comparison. Wiesel said: “Iran is a danger, but to claim that it is creating a second Auschwitz? I compare nothing to the Holocaust.”

The distinction in the respective emphasis on Iran between Peres and Netanyahu is significant. It also explains why there continues to be tension between President Obama and Bibi. While they both understand the Iranian threat, Israel sees it as an existential threat and Obama sees it a major destabilizing force in the region. Both are critical. They demand world attention, sanctions, and force—if necessary. The problem is that Netanyahu still does not believe Obama will do the right thing.

So what happened during this solemn day of remembrance was that Israeli leaders used the occasion to sustain pressure on the U.S. and the world about the Iranian threat.  The Israeli Prime Minister and Ambassador laid down the challenge to President Obama when he will commemorate the Shoah in his April 23 address to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

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