President Isaac Herzog addressed Thursday the European Parliament in the Belgian capital, ahead of International Holocaust Memorial Day traditionally marked on January 27.
The Israeli president was invited as the keynote-speaker for the special commemoration event, organized annually by the Parliament. Several Holocaust survivors and leaders of the local Jewish community were also present for the ceremony, which drew much media attention.
Arriving at the European Parliament building, Herzog was welcomed by its President Roberta Mestola. Speaking to cameras, Metsola said that the ‘’European Parliament gives the greatest importance to fighting antisemitism and to Holocaust remembrance. All Jews and Jewish communities should feel safe in Europe. We condemn antisemitism and fight it with all possible means, and we attach special relevance to fighting disinformation and hate speech, and educating young generations. As I said in Knesset when I visited last spring: to be antisemitic is to be anti-European.’’
In her welcoming words at the hemicycle, Metsola referred to the Holocaust as ‘’the greatest crime in history,’’ a crime that had marked and continues to mark humanity for generations. Metsola said that while the bond between the peoples of Europe and the people of Israel has been forged in suffering, they share not only history and the promise to remember, but also a common destiny. Metsola called to deepen and to nurture these relations, which are open and straightforward.
Herzog warns of rising antisemitism in Europe and around the world
Addressing the European parliamentarians, Herzog started his speech by telling the story of his grandfather, Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, Rabbi Dr. Yitzhak Isaac HaLevi Herzog, who arrived to Europe in 1946 in a quest to relocate and rescue Jews across the ravaged continent. Reaching to Warsaw, the rabbi rewrote the words of “El Malei Rachamim,” in memory of all the Jews who perished. President Herzog then cited the payer of Kadis, in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.
‘’Today we see movements on the extremes of European and world politics, which proudly raise the ugly banner of antisemitism, which once more threatens to turn democratic and civilized societies into ones that devour their own people. Unfortunately, the picture is disturbing. Deeply disturbing,’’ said Herzog. The Israeli president warned that ‘’Jew-hatred still exists. Antisemitism still exists. Holocaust denial still exists. The latest reports point to new records of hatred, as antisemitism continues to don new guises, and this time it is active on virtual platforms as well—fueled by them, striking roots in them, thriving, spreading poison. Throughout the internet, viral antisemitism is spreading at a record pace, at the click of a button. The distance between a viral video and a physical attack hardly exists at all.’’
‘’You must read the warning signs, detect the symptoms of the pandemic of antisemitism, and fight it at all costs. You must ensure that every Jew wanting to live a full Jewish life in your countries may do so safely and fearlessly.’President Isaac Herzog
Addressing the European legislators directly, Herzog said they must not stand by. ‘’You must read the warning signs, detect the symptoms of the pandemic of antisemitism, and fight it at all costs. You must ensure that every Jew wanting to live a full Jewish life in your countries may do so safely and fearlessly,’’ noted Herzog.
Warning against the Tehran regime, Herzog said, ‘’we must work together as a single community, determined and cohesive, against the forces of darkness and hatred that threaten to destroy us. As president of the State of Israel, I speak first and foremost of the Iranian regime, which not only publicly calls for the complete annihilation of my country but is also murdering its own countrymen and women, who are demanding liberty and human and civil rights, stoking civil wars throughout the Middle East, playing an active and lethal role in the war in Ukraine, and developing weapons of mass destruction on the way to dramatically threatening the stability of the entire globe.’’
Herzog’s speech was followed by a minute of silence, in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, and then by a recital of a musical piece titled Kadish, played by Israeli clarinet Chen Levy and Hungarian cimbalom Jeno Lisztes.
After the ceremony, Herzog and Metsola inaugurated a replica of an artwork titled The Refugee, painted by Felix Nusbaum, who was murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. The replica was placed at the entrance of the European Parliament hemicycle, for all legislators to see and remember daily as the enter the plenum.
Herzog conducts meetings with European leaders
The ceremony at the European parliament was the height of Herzog’s two-day visit to the Belgian capital. Arriving in Brussels Wednesday morning, Herzog first met with the Belgian King Philippe at the royal palace. He then continued to a meeting with the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen. Among the issued discussed with Von der Leyen was the European battle against antisemitism in its different forms.
Herzog thanked Von der Leyen for her leadership in combatting antisemitism, noting that ‘’it is raising its ugly head in the world and in Europe, unfortunately. As you know all too well, it starts with antisemitism; it never ends with it. And as we are entering International Holocaust Remembrance Day tomorrow, I think it is only symbolic that I am here together with you, confirming out strong commitment to fighting antisemitism and hate wherever it is.’’
The two leaders also discussed Iran, with Herzog calling on the European leaders to take a firm stance on the regime in Tehran, which threatens, he noted, not only Israel but also the Middle East region, Europe and the world.
Herzog’s call came on the backdrop of a resolution adopted by an overwhelming majority last week at the Parliament, calling on the leaders of the European Union to blacklist the Iranian Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) and to increase sanctions against Iranian personalities who have breached human rights and oppressed demonstrations.
Convened last Monday for their monthly meeting in Brussels, the European foreign ministers rejected the demand to add the IRGC to the European list of terror organizations, but did add 37 personalities and entities to the sanction list.