Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and European Jewish leaders decried the “hypocrisy” of France and Italy hosting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, head of a Holocaust-denying regime, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day Wednesday.
“I have no words for the hypocrisy of the presidents of countries, like France, that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day host the president of Iran,” Edelstein said in the Knesset plenum.
“We will have to continue our struggle to make sure the Holocaust is remembered and so that others’ consciences will speak to them.”
Edelstein this week mentioned the Holocaust cartoon contest sponsored by the Tehran Municipality and set for June, carrying a $50,000 prize, saying: “We all thought the president of Iran was a cruel and insensitive person who hosts a Holocaust denial exhibition.
“It turns out that he is a very sensitive man, and all the [nude] statues in Rome had to be covered up in order not to offend him. And if you thought he’s not cultured and doesn’t respect science and culture, well, it turns out that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, he is going to give a speech at UNESCO,” Edelstein remarked sarcastically.
MK Michael Oren (Kulanu) represented Israel at a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on battling anti-Semitism and extremism, among other topics, as well as at PACE’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony.
Oren, a former ambassador to the US, asked: “How can Europe respect the memory of the Holocaust, while on the same exact day it hosts the leader of the Iranian regime, which denies that the Holocaust even happened? “Israel welcomes Europe’s commitment to fighting anti-Semitism,” he added, “but its recent actions, such as labeling products from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, together with repeated declarations by the Swedish foreign minister, raise doubts about this commitment.”
Jewish communities in Europe also came out against Rouhani’s visit.
The American Jewish Committee’s branch in Paris decided to invite Rouhani to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day with the Jewish community in the city, posting an open invitation on Facebook.
AJC France director-general Simone Rodan Benzaquen said: “Last year, French President François Hollande participated in a ceremony marking 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz. This year, he will stay in Paris to meet with the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, the head of a regime that denies the Holocaust. What is the logic in that?”
In a statement, the Rome Jewish community leadership underscored Rouhani’s positions of a clear “Holocaust denial and revisionist nature.”
It cited the “constant calls for the destruction of Israel” and manifestations such as Tehran’s “contest for anti-Semitic and Holocaust revisionist cartoons.” These, it said, as well as his government’s “lack of respect for civil rights, constant increase of the death penalty, [and] restrictions on freedom of the press” made Rouhani’s official visit to Rome “unwelcome.”
In the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that a national memorial to the Holocaust will be built in London’s Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Houses of Parliament.
A design contest will be launched in the coming weeks, and the memorial will be built by the end of 2017.
The plan to build a memorial was proposed by the cross-party Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission, which examined how the UK should ensure the memory of the Holocaust is preserved. In addition to the national memorial, the commission recommended building a learning center to further Holocaust education and preserve testimony from survivors.
Speaking at the start of Prime Minister’s Questions, Cameron said the memorial “will stand beside Parliament as a permanent statement of our values as a nation.
“Our whole country should stand together to remember the darkest hour of humanity,” he said.
UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said building the memorial “at the very heart of British democracy... sends the strongest possible message on behalf of the whole country that the lessons of the Holocaust will forever form a part of our national consciousness, and that the legacy of survivors will be secured for posterity.”
In statements made in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for the Shoah to “forever be seared into our collective memory.
“It is not only a responsibility towards the Jewish people, it is a responsibility towards mankind, towards future generations, towards Europe itself. If we forget the dark history of our continent, we run the risk of underestimating how crucial it is to preserve peace, unity and diversity inside our continent,” she said.
Mogherini admitted, however, that more than 70 years after the Holocaust, there is still anti-Semitism in Europe.
“We share, as European citizens and as EU institutions, the fears and concerns of so many European Jews,” she said. “Our countries are duly stepping up security measures, but this is first and foremost a battle of hearts and minds against anti-Semitism and any kind of discrimination based on faith or ethnicity.”
Jewish organizations, both in Europe and around the world, have also criticized the timing of Rouhani’s visit, with Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, wryly commenting that the “memory of man is short, memory of states even shorter.”
“I totally agree with Edelstein,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s chief Nazi-hunter Dr. Efraim Zuroff told The Jerusalem Post
“How do you host the leader of a country which sponsors a Holocaust denial cartoon contest and which openly speaks of annihilating Israel? Any such invitation reeks of hypocrisy on any day, let alone International Holocaust Memorial Day.”
The timing of the invitation was not as problematic as much as the invitation itself, remonstrated Robert Ejnes, executive director of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), the umbrella group representing much of French organized Jewry.
A recent poll indicates that the French largely want the issue of Iranian human rights to be brought up during the meeting, Ejnes said, adding that CRIF president Roger Cukierman “has written publicly to President Hollande to request that he requests from Rouhani to stop financing terrorism, to stop calls for the destruction of Israel, and to stop negationism of the Shoah.”Sam Sokol and JTA contributed to this report.