Holocaust Forum: A historic event, but missed opportunity for cooperation

Thursday’s event is important because remembering the Holocaust and combating antisemitism are important.

A RELATIVE of a Holocaust survivor places a flower next to the name of a former concentration camp during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A RELATIVE of a Holocaust survivor places a flower next to the name of a former concentration camp during a ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The word “historic” has been used again and again to describe the magnitude of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, set to take place in Jerusalem on Thursday. Leaders of 46 countries, far more than have ever been in Israel at one time, are expected to participate in the event hosted by President Reuven Rivlin and Yad Vashem.
But those visits are almost entirely limited to the Holocaust memorial event, which is important in and of itself, but is far from taking maximum advantage of a head of state’s visit. The reason that the potential of these visits is not being exhausted is because of Israel’s never-ending election season.
The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is undoubtedly momentous. It is being held in honor of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, but is titled “Remembering the Holocaust: Fighting Antisemitism,” meaning that it will also focus on fighting the present-day versions of Jew-hatred that has echoed throughout the ages.
It’s likely that so many presidents, prime ministers, kings and princes – nearly four times as many as the President’s Residence expected – chose to descend upon Jerusalem in the coming days because antisemitism is, for unfortunate and often tragic reasons, a hot topic lately, and they want to show that they are on the right side of the fight against it.
To have this unprecedented number of leaders come together sends a strong message, even if fighting antisemitism will take more than flying to Jerusalem for a couple of days.
Still, the visit is largely symbolic, and its diplomatic value could have been much greater if Israel had a functioning government instead of an interim one, which is now on its 13th month and is operating without a state budget.
Diplomatic sources from different countries on different continents have lamented the situation in private conversations in recent months.
Some leaders, such as French President Emmanuel Macron, are making sure to meet with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz while they are in town to start making inroads toward cooperation in case the next new government won’t have the same leadership as this one.
But other than a courtesy visit to the unofficial opposition leader, there is not much that can be advanced politically.
Ministers in the delegations of their countries’ leaders don’t have anyone to meet with, because their Israeli counterparts don’t have an organized budget and are legally limited, and therefore lack the ability to take forward-looking action toward international cooperation.
Many governments have pacts and projects they would like to work on, and even prepared agreements they want to sign with Israel. France, for example, has economic, research and space-related agreements that are complete, but have not yet been signed. None of that can be completed and implemented with an interim government.
Thursday’s event is important because remembering the Holocaust and combating antisemitism are important.
But this week could have been a major one for Israel’s international relations, trade and bilateral cooperation in scientific research, and so many other areas, and that opportunity will be missed. This is just another way that being stuck in a third election cycle in a single year is hurting Israelis.


Tags diplomacy