World Holocaust Forum events set to start with leaders of 49 countries

“I welcome the leaders from around the world who are coming here, to Jerusalem, to mark with us 75 years to the liberation of Auschwitz,” he said.

US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen (center), stand alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem in 2018. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen (center), stand alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem in 2018.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

The official events of the Fifth World Holocaust Forum are set to begin on Wednesday night, with a dinner at the President’s Residence.

High-level delegations from 49 countries are expected to take part in the main event at Yad Vashem on Thursday afternoon, to remember the Holocaust and commit to fighting antisemitism, while 40 will attend a dinner the night before hosted by President Reuven Rivlin.
Leaders began arriving in the early hours of Tuesday, with the presidents of 10 different countries landing in Ben-Gurion Airport, among other leaders. Many more are expected to arrive on Wednesday, including two kings, a Grand Duke and two crown princes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video message as dignitaries began to arrive in Israel, saying: “I welcome the leaders from around the world who are coming here, to Jerusalem, to mark with us 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz extermination camp.
“It is important that they remember where we came from, and it is important that they see what we have achieved,” Netanyahu stated.
Netanyahu has meetings planned with US Vice President Mike Pence, Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron. Most of the visiting leaders asked to meet with Netanyahu and his office is trying to find time for as many as possible.
Netanyahu will have a working breakfast with Macron on Wednesday morning, in which he plans to bring up France, the UK and Germany triggering the dispute mechanism of their nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu will encourage the implementation of “snapback sanctions,” meaning a return of the UN’s sanctions on Tehran, a possible end result of putting Iran on notice in the world powers’ agreement.
The prime minister also plans to ask Macron to have his country designate all of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, instead of just part of it. The UK has already done so and Germany plans to follow suit.
Israel’s natural gas exports are also expected to be part of the discussions with Macron, as France asked to join the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum last week. Other members are Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Italy and Jordan, and the US has asked to be a permanent observer.
Netanyahu will meet with Pence and Putin separately on Thursday, and will discuss Iran with them as well.
In addition, Netanyahu and Putin will discuss continued security coordination in Syria to avoid clashes between the Israeli and Russian militaries.
They also plan to sign several economic agreements.
Rivlin began his intensive series of meetings, hosting his counterparts from Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Georgia and the governor-general of Australia. The president is expected to meet with all the heads of state arriving in Israel, for half an hour each.
The dinner at the President’s Residence will feature a film consisting of statements made against antisemitism by leaders of countries with delegations attending the World Holocaust Forum.
US President Donald Trump wrote: “To those who seek the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people, I say: never again.”
Pope Francis sent a message about how to confront hatred, saying “we must remain firm in our efforts to advance dialog, mutual understanding and human fellowship as a basis for peace.” The Vatican sent Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, to attend.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany wrote, “the Shoah… [is] a self-inflicted wound that has never entirely healed... It is not only a part of German history, but also an awareness that guides us in the present day.”
The UK’s Prince Charles wrote, “we must resolve that the memory of the millions who perished... is passed down to future generations.”
The film also includes the words of Macron, who expressed his concern about the rise of antisemitism across Europe, writing that “Holocaust survivors, citizens of France and of other states, are being persecuted only because they are Jews.”
Putin called on the leaders of the world to unite in the fight against antisemitism: “We expect the world to unite their efforts in confronting these threats.”
Among the leaders attending the events were European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President David Sassoli, who is visiting Israel for the first time since taking office last December.
The EU institution heads released a statement saying that they are in Jerusalem to “add our voices to those who are determined not to let extremists and populists go unchallenged when they are trying to cross boundaries and question – once again – human dignity and equality of all human beings. We cannot change history, but the lessons of history can change us.”
The central ceremony at Yad Vashem on Thursday has courted controversy after it came to light that only 24-30 Holocaust survivors will be able to attend. Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin tweeted on Monday: “I very much wanted to come because of the importance of remembering the Holocaust, but I have decided to transfer my invitation to a Holocaust survivor who was not invited. I suggest my fellow ministers do the same.”
Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman and interim Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Ronen Peretz also gave up their seats at the ceremony at Yad Vashem so that Holocaust survivors could attend instead of them.
Yad Vashem told Ma’ariv that they can only fit 780 people in their hall for the ceremony, half of whom will be leaders and their delegations.
“It’s important to note that according to numbers published recently, there are over 100,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, such that we could not invite all of them or even half of them,” Yad Vashem’s spokesperson said.
Before the Yad Vashem ceremony on Thursday, Netanyahu and Putin will dedicate a new monument to the victims of the Nazis’ siege on Leningrad, now known as Saint Petersburg. An estimated 600,000 to 1.5 million residents of the city perished in the 900-day blockade, among them tens of thousands of Jews, many of whom enlisted in the Red Army or joined volunteer militias who defended the city.
World War II veterans and blockade survivors plan to attend the ceremony in addition to Netanyahu, Putin and other dignitaries.
The Memorial Candle monument was installed in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, and was designed by a team of Israeli and Russian architects. The 8.5 m. brass steel column has a cast bronze element representing a candle that is illuminated at nighttime to give the effect of an eternally burning flame.
 Meanwhile, Australian Governor General David Hurley told some of his fellow countrymen who now live in Israel that “never again” is not just a statement of history but a current statement in a world where antisemitism is on the rise. Speaking on Tuesday evening at a reception at the King David Hotel hosted by Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan, Hurley said that he would not want to see a repeat of the atrocities of the Holocaust, not only as far as Jews are concerned, but to people anywhere in the world.
Hurley had just arrived at the reception following what Cannan described as “a very successful meeting” with President Rivlin.
Hurley had told Rivlin that Jews came to Australia with the first fleet in 1788, and Australia had welcomed Holocaust survivors after the Second World War, he said, adding that they and their descendants had made significant contributions to Australia. The relationship between Australia and Israel is very strong in defense and at all levels, he emphasized, adding that a relationship doesn’t work on the basis of a written piece of paper. It is only when people implement what has been agreed on paper, that the relationship works, he stated.
Hurley, who is the former commander in chief of the Australian Defense Forces, noted Australia’s long military history in the Middle East, which stretches back more than 100 years, and declared: “We are committed to the region.”
He introduced Holocaust survivor Sir Frank Lowy, who is one of Australia’s most eminent businessmen and who is also a citizen of Israel.
Lowy, who has been invited to attend the Global Forum at Yad Vashem, said that it was very important to him because his father had been murdered in the most brutal way in Auschwitz.
When The Jerusalem Post asked Hurley to explain the upsurge of antisemitism in Australia, he replied that Australia is a country that accepts all, and things like antisemitism happen as a result of that policy, but when antisemitism does occur, people must speak out, he said.
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.