Ministers, MKs, and ambassadors gathered on the 67th anniversary of Kristallnacht Wednesday to mark the death of famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, six weeks after only one Israeli government official attended his funeral in Herzliya.
Cabinet members were criticized for not joining Deputy Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Israeli Society Michael Melchior at the funeral, though Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who hosted Wednesday's memorial service, began his remarks by noting that he had been at the UN when Wiesenthal died.
"There are moments in life when one must stop to honor a value or ideal, and by doing so reaffirming our dedication to it. We are today to do just that, to honor a great person and through that to honor the values and ideals for which he stood," Shalom declared, describing Wiesenthal as "a man who stood for justice."
Wednesday's memorial was "an important statement," said the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office director Efraim Zuroff, who did not speak at the event. "Maybe it's a bit of an antidote to the lack of participation in the funeral." He called the lack of a government presence at the funeral a "sin of omission," and said "the best way to honor Wiesenthal's memory is to continue what he did."
He criticized the memorial service for not calling for tracking down the remaining Nazis. "On a certain level people would prefer that this subject be over," Zuroff said, arguing that Israel "never played a major role in the subject." But he noted that Wiesenthal's contribution wasn't only as a Nazi hunter. "He's also the fight against anti-Semitism. He's also the preservation of memory."
That legacy was duly honored on Wednesday, Zuroff said, and "that's in a sense an easier legacy to carry on."
US Ambassador Richard Jones praised Wiesenthal for "shining a bright spotlight on the dark side of humanity" and evoking the importance of moral and rational action. Jones concluded, "In vowing to never forget, he ensured that we will always remember him."
Melchior, who was the only other minister to speak, though Interior Minister Ophir Paz-Pines and Construction and Housing Minister Isaac Herzog, as well as MKs Tommy Lapid, Marina Solodkin, Ran Cohen, and Tzahi Hanegbi attended, stressed the importance of the recent UN resolution declaring a global Holocaust Remembrance Day. "This resolution is crucial because it makes the Holocaust the paradigm for all crimes against humanity," he said. "This is what disturbs our enemies."
Shalom noted that before the ceremony, he gave the UN document enshrining Holocaust Day, the first Israel-sponsored resolution to be passed, to Yad Vashem, which "deserved" to house it and where the most people would see it.
He also noted the need for ongoing vigilance against anti-Semitism, referring to 34 incidents in the past 30 days, and the need to back the Jewish state following Iran's call for Israel's destruction, which he called "verbal terrorism."
At the funeral, Wiesenthal's granddaughter Racheli Kreisberg-Zakarin recalled that "I looked at his peaceful body and I felt relief for him." In life, she said, "He was always busy. Even when he was resting he looked busy." His work, she said, "was central, the reason of his being," and now "he succeeded in his mission and created a legacy, and will be followed by others. He threw a stone in the water and created numerous circles."