It is the world’s duty to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear arms, but first and
foremost it is Israel’s obligation, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on
Wednesday at the state’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad
In a speech that dealt heavily with Iran, Netanyahu said the
obligation Israel must take from the Holocaust is not only to remember the past,
“but to learn the lessons and more importantly to implement those lessons to
ensure the future of our people.”
He noted that this was especially true
in this generation, when there are those calling for the destruction of the
Jewish state, and when Iran is working toward obtaining the means of achieving
“The truth is that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is an
existential threat to Israel’s existence,” Netanyahu said. “The truth is that a
nuclear Iran is an immediate threat to other nations in the region, and a grave
threat to the peace of the world. And the truth is that it is necessary to
prevent Iran from getting nuclear arms. That is the obligation of the world, but
first and foremost it is our obligation.”
Netanyahu’s comments came at
the ceremony whose theme this year – under the banner of “My Brother’s Keeper” –
was Jewish solidarity during the Holocaust.
Hundreds of survivors
attended, and six survivors who assisted other Jews during the Holocaust were
honored during a torch lighting ceremony.
“In one week we will raise the
flags of Israel’s independence which rose for the first time 64 years ago,”
President Shimon Peres told the crowd.
“Today, it is clear that the
reality we have built is the vision we once dreamed.”
“We used to be a
question mark; today we are a strong country,” he said. “Humanity has no choice but to learn from the lessons of the
Holocaust and stand strong in the face of existential threats, before it is too
Peres told the audience that during Passover he traveled all over
“Blue skies, blooming fields, lovely children, hardworking
people,” he said. “I wondered about the communities they originated from which
are no longer. For a moment, I replaced Tel Aviv with Vilna, Haifa with
Bialystok, Deganya, Nahalal, Beersheba with Plonsk, Riga, Odessa. Not a single
Jew remains there.”
Tragic events earlier in the day cast a shadow over
the proceedings, when a 20-year-old soldier from Mevaseret Zion, Hila Bezaleli,
during rehearsals at nearby Mount Herzl for the Independence Day
ceremony next week.
Netanyahu also paid tribute to her at the start of
his comments, as well as to 19-year-old soldier Yehoshua Hefetz, of Jerusalem,
who collapsed and died
during a tryout for an elite unit.
minister, who came under a great deal of domestic criticism last month after
delivering a speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington drawing
parallels between the Iranian threat and the Holocaust, pushed back hard against
those critics who said this argument both trivialized the Holocaust and sowed
panic in the country.
“I know there are those who don’t like when I say
these types of unpleasant truths,” Netanyahu said. “They prefer not to talk
about a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, and claim that this statement,
even if it is correct, only sows fear and panic.”
Netanyahu said Israel
dealt with existential threats – in 1948 and 1967 – when the country was
infinitely less strong than it is today, and that during those periods the
country’s leaders, first David Ben-Gurion and then Levi Eshkol, told the nation
the truth about the dangers it faced.
The nation did not panic, but
rather united to defend itself, Netanyahu said.
“I believe in the Jewish
people’s ability to deal with the truth, and I believe in our ability to defend
ourselves against those who want to kill us.”
Netanyahu charged that
those who dismiss the Iranian threat as being exaggerated or not serious have
not learned anything from the Holocaust.
He said there were always those
among the Jewish people who preferred to scorn unpleasant truths rather than
face them head on. This, he added, was the way certain Jewish intellectuals
dealt with revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, ridiculing his warnings to
Polish Jews in 1938 of the oncoming disaster.
To those who argue that the
singular evil of the Holocaust should not be raised when talking about the
present dangers and that doing so in some way cheapens the Holocaust and insults
the victims, Netanyahu replied, “I completely reject that approach.”
the contrary, to be deterred from speaking the truth and saying that today, like
then, there are those who want to destroy millions of Jews, “that is cheapening
the Holocaust, that is an insult to the memory of the victims, that is ignoring
While the Jewish people had neither a voice to stir the
world to action, or an army to defend itself during the Holocaust, today the
reality is different, Netanyahu said.
“Today we have a state, today we
have an army,” he said. “We have the ability, obligation and determination to
Netanyahu pledged that as prime minister he would not
hesitate to tell uncomfortable truths to the world, nor to his own people, which
“is strong enough” to hear it.