Dr. Efraim Zuroff has worked for 25 years, with the Simon Wiesenthal Center Israel office and with the US's Office of Special Investigations, toward the capture of hundreds of people who committed crimes against Jews.
He was frustrated by how the battle to bring those criminals to justice was one which the center waged largely on its own. So he took particular exception to a comment from Rafael Eitan, a former Mossad agent, crediting the Israeli government with following Wiesenthal's lead in pursuing and bringing to justice Nazi war criminals.
"Simon Wiesenthal was one of the outstanding elements which influenced the government of Israel in the 1950s to find the Nazi commanders who had a role in the Holocaust and bring them to trial in Israel," Eitan told The Jerusalem Post in an interview published on Wednesday. "Wiesenthal was among those who increased the awareness in Israel by his repeated demands on the government that the pursuit of Nazis was one of its national missions."
Would that it were so, said Zuroff.
He called the Mossad's dramatic capture of Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 a "fantastic achievement, absolutely fantastic." And he applauded the Mossad for assassinating Latvian war criminal Herbert Cukurs in Uruguay in 1965. But after that, he said, Israel effectively left the mission of hunting down Nazis to Wiesenthal and a handful of others.
"The state just plain stopped pursuing Nazis," he said. "In 1986, an adviser to Shimon Peres told us, 'If they're not big Nazis, don't even bother us.'"
"The State of Israel has always known how to reap the privileges owed it in light of the Holocaust," Zuroff added, "but it has not always known how to accept its obligations in light of the Holocaust."
The cost of Israel's inaction in the field, Zuroff said, was that too many murderers have escaped justice. Despite the efforts of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, more than 1,000 war criminals still enjoy their freedom. It's a price he feels the Jewish people shouldn't have had to pay.