Peres to Europeans: How you would act in our place?

President attends opening in Brussels of traveling exhibition on 70th anniversary of Bulgarian Jewry’s rescue from Nazis.

Peres and Bulgarian president 370 (photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
Peres and Bulgarian president 370
(photo credit: Moshe Milner/GPO)
No other country has faced the dangers and paid the price for its existence as Israel has, President Shimon Peres said Wednesday in Brussels. He then asked a rhetorical question of the country’s legion of European critics: “How would you behave were you in our place?”
Peres’s remarks came during a meeting with parliamentarians from Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Finland who are friendly to Israel, as he attended the opening at the European Parliament of a traveling exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the rescue of Bulgarian Jewry from the Nazis’ clutches.
“Israel was established 65 years ago, and since then has gone through seven wars – I don’t know another country that has withstood that degree of danger and paid such a high price in life,” he said.
Repeating what he has said on numerous occasions in the past, Peres called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a “man of peace,” and said that Israel yearns for peace with its neighbors. “We signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and gave back considerable territories,” he said.
The president said peace was still possible and that the gaps between the sides were not great.
“We tried to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and we left Gaza and uprooted 8,000 residents,” he said.
Regarding the Iranian threat, Peres said that while he respected the Iranian people, the Iranian leadership was funding Hezbollah and training terrorist organizations that were carrying out terrorist attacks around the world, including Europe.
Peres said Iran is not threatened by the world, but does not respect international agreements and is itself threatening world peace.
The Bulgarian Jewry exhibition, which was a joint venture of the Republic of Bulgaria and Yad Vashem, was initially displayed in the UNESCO building in Paris on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January.
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev and Foreign Minister Nikolay Mladenov also attended the opening ceremony.
Mladenov said his country, which had demonstrated courage in the past in saving Jews, will not blanch today in the face of terror and will call it by its name.
He was referring specifically to Hezbollah’s involvement in the bombing of a tour bus in the Bulgarian resort town of Burgas in July of last year, which resulted in the deaths of five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver.
Mladenov was hopeful that all the member states of the EU would realize the importance of recognizing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and would act accordingly.
If this happens, Hezbollah will find it increasingly difficult to raise funds in Europe, which will cause its activities to be severely hampered.
Peres, in his meetings with European leaders in Brussels, Paris and Strasbourg over the next week, will also be pressing this issue as well as concerns over the Iranian nuclear threat and the dangers posed by Syria’s chemical arsenal, and will emphasize the fact that both Hezbollah and Syria are strongly backed by Iran.
With regard to Bulgaria, Peres noted that it has a warm place in the hearts of Israelis because of its courage, integrity and humanity.
He expressed deep regret that what happened in Bulgaria had not been emulated in Greece and Macedonia whose Jewish communities all but disappeared at the hands of the Nazis.
Peres also praised Europe for its ability to unite after a millennium of wars and hatred.
On Tuesday, Peres and the crown prince of Belgium recognized 11 families who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Peres and Prince Phillipe bestowed the decorations of the Righteous Among the Nations on the 11 Belgian families.
“On behalf of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, I thank you from the depths of my heart,” the president told the families, emphasizing there were not many like them. “The Righteous Among the Nations brought light into the world, and exhibited bravery and courage in the face of the atrocities of the Holocaust.”
Holocaust survivors from around the world were among those attending the ceremony along with Jewish organizational leaders, government ministers, lawmakers and the heads of faith communities in Belgium.
Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Didier Reynders said the lessons of the Holocaust will be taught to future generations and that the Righteous Among the Nations showed that even in the darkest times, when lives are in danger, it is possible to say no to cooperation with cruelty.
In the past year, Belgium accepted responsibility for its involvement in the fate of the Jews during the Holocaust and saw a museum inaugurated in the city of Mechelen, from where trains departed to the Auschwitz death camp.
JTA contributed to this report.