Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu left the Fatah- Hamas pact aside, and in a somber speech marking the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday evening urged world leaders to learn the lessons of the 1930s and – when facing Iran – see reality as it is, not as how they would like it to be.
While Netanyahu has in the past frequently drawn comparisons between Hitler’s Germany and the Ayatollahs’ Iran, he focused in his speech at Yad Vashem on retelling how the West was paralyzed against acting in time against Nazi Germany, because – coming out of the horrors of World War I – it wanted to avoid conflict at all cost.
“We need to identify existential threats on time, and to act against them on time,” he said. “I ask, why in the years preceding the Holocaust did the vast majority of the world’s leaders, and the vast majority of the leaders of our people, not see the threats beforehand?” In retrospect, Netanyahu said, all the signs were apparent: the arming of the Nazi regime from year to year, the anti-Semitic propaganda that got worse month by month, and the attacks on the Jews.
Netanyahu said that a few world leaders, like Winston Churchill, saw the nature of the threat Nazism posed, and a few Jewish leaders – like Ze’ev Jabotinsky – warned against the oncoming destruction.
Then, in what seemed like a direct response to critics who accuse him of exaggerating the Iranian threat, Netanyahu said those who warned about the Nazis were roundly criticized by people who dismissed them as “prophets of doom” and “warmongers.”
“I ask how it could be that so many did not understand the reality?” he questioned.
“The bitter, tragic truth is that it is not as though they did not see; they did not want to see. And the reason they chose not to see the truth is that they did not want to deal with the ramifications of that truth.”
In an effort to avoid a repeat of the horrors of World War I, the West’s leaders wanted to avoid a confrontation at any price. “And by doing so, they prepared the ground for the worst war in the history of humanity.”
Netanyahu stressed, again in an obvious parallel to today, that this desire to prevent confrontation at all costs was not only the will of the leaders but also of their people, especially the intellectuals.
Even as more information about the true intent and capabilities of the Nazis reached London, Paris, and Washington, “They had eyes that did not see, and ears that did not hear,” Netanyahu said. “When you don’t want to accept reality as it is, it is possible to deny, and that is exactly what the Western leaders did.”
Netanyahu said the West dismissed the murderous rhetoric of the Nazis as meant for internal German consumption, and they understated the rearmament of the Nazis, saying that it flowed from the desire of a proud people to rebuild.
“The reality was clear, but it was wrapped in a bubble of delusions,” he said. “The price of the delusions, of the vain hopes, was very heavy. When the Western leaders finally acted, their people paid a horrible price.”
While World War I cost 16 million casualties, World War II left 60 million people dead.
Turning to Iran, Netanyahu asked if the world has learned the lessons of the past.
“Today we are again standing before clear facts and real dangers,” he warned.
Iran, he said, is calling for Israel’s destruction, and developing nuclear weapons, which is why it is building underground bunkers to enrich uranium, and building heavy-water plants to extract plutonium, and also why it is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles that can carry a nuclear payload.
“Like then, also today, there are those who dismiss Iran’s extreme rhetoric as stemming form internal needs. Like then, also today, there are those who dismiss their nuclear desires as the natural will of a proud people that we need to reconcile with. And like then, also today, those who say these things are deluding themselves, and making an historic mistake.”
Netanyahu said that Iran wants an agreement with the West that will relieve the crippling sanctions against it but enable it to be a nuclear threshold state, with the ability to manufacture a nuclear weapon in a couple of months. This type of agreement, he said, “would bring the world to the edge of the abyss.”
“I hope the lessons of the past were learned. I hope we will not meet again a desire to prevent conflict at all costs, something that will lead to an accord that will lead to a much higher price in the future.”
Netanyahu called on the world’s leaders to ensure that Iran completely dismantle itself of the capability to manufacture nuclear weapons, and to not give up until this goal is achieved.
“In any event, the people of Israel will stand strong. Against existential threats our situation is completely different than what it was in the Holocaust,” he said.
“Today we have a sovereign Jewish state. As Israel’s prime minister, I am not afraid to tell the world the truth, even to those whose eyes are blind, and ears are deaf. That is not only my right, but my obligation.”