PM: Israel obligated to prevent nuclear-armed Iran

At Yad Vashem ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day, PM pushes back against critics saying he should not draw parallels between Iran and the Holocaust: The people of Israel are strong enough to hear the truth.

Netanyahu at Yad Vashem 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Netanyahu at Yad Vashem 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It is the world’s duty to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear arms, but first and foremost it is Israel’s obligation, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday at the state’s Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem.
In a speech that dealt heavily with Iran, Netanyahu said the obligation Israel must take from the Holocaust is not only to remember the past, “but to learn the lessons and more importantly to implement those lessons to ensure the future of our people.”
He noted that this was especially true in this generation, when there are those calling for the destruction of the Jewish state, and when Iran is working toward obtaining the means of achieving that goal.
“The truth is that an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is an existential threat to Israel’s existence,” Netanyahu said. “The truth is that a nuclear Iran is an immediate threat to other nations in the region, and a grave threat to the peace of the world. And the truth is that it is necessary to prevent Iran from getting nuclear arms. That is the obligation of the world, but first and foremost it is our obligation.”
Netanyahu’s comments came at the ceremony whose theme this year – under the banner of “My Brother’s Keeper” – was Jewish solidarity during the Holocaust.
Hundreds of survivors attended, and six survivors who assisted other Jews during the Holocaust were honored during a torch lighting ceremony.
“In one week we will raise the flags of Israel’s independence which rose for the first time 64 years ago,” President Shimon Peres told the crowd.
“Today, it is clear that the reality we have built is the vision we once dreamed.”
“We used to be a question mark; today we are a strong country,” he said. “Humanity has no choice but to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and stand strong in the face of existential threats, before it is too late.”
Peres told the audience that during Passover he traveled all over the country.
“Blue skies, blooming fields, lovely children, hardworking people,” he said. “I wondered about the communities they originated from which are no longer. For a moment, I replaced Tel Aviv with Vilna, Haifa with Bialystok, Deganya, Nahalal, Beersheba with Plonsk, Riga, Odessa. Not a single Jew remains there.”
Tragic events earlier in the day cast a shadow over the proceedings, when a 20-year-old soldier from Mevaseret Zion, Hila Bezaleli, was killed during rehearsals at nearby Mount Herzl for the Independence Day ceremony next week.
Netanyahu also paid tribute to her at the start of his comments, as well as to 19-year-old soldier Yehoshua Hefetz, of Jerusalem, who collapsed and died during a tryout for an elite unit.
The prime minister, who came under a great deal of domestic criticism last month after delivering a speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington drawing parallels between the Iranian threat and the Holocaust, pushed back hard against those critics who said this argument both trivialized the Holocaust and sowed panic in the country.
“I know there are those who don’t like when I say these types of unpleasant truths,” Netanyahu said. “They prefer not to talk about a nuclear Iran as an existential threat, and claim that this statement, even if it is correct, only sows fear and panic.”
Netanyahu said Israel dealt with existential threats – in 1948 and 1967 – when the country was infinitely less strong than it is today, and that during those periods the country’s leaders, first David Ben-Gurion and then Levi Eshkol, told the nation the truth about the dangers it faced.
The nation did not panic, but rather united to defend itself, Netanyahu said.
“I believe in the Jewish people’s ability to deal with the truth, and I believe in our ability to defend ourselves against those who want to kill us.”
Netanyahu charged that those who dismiss the Iranian threat as being exaggerated or not serious have not learned anything from the Holocaust.
He said there were always those among the Jewish people who preferred to scorn unpleasant truths rather than face them head on. This, he added, was the way certain Jewish intellectuals dealt with revisionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, ridiculing his warnings to Polish Jews in 1938 of the oncoming disaster.
To those who argue that the singular evil of the Holocaust should not be raised when talking about the present dangers and that doing so in some way cheapens the Holocaust and insults the victims, Netanyahu replied, “I completely reject that approach.”
On the contrary, to be deterred from speaking the truth and saying that today, like then, there are those who want to destroy millions of Jews, “that is cheapening the Holocaust, that is an insult to the memory of the victims, that is ignoring its lessons.”
While the Jewish people had neither a voice to stir the world to action, or an army to defend itself during the Holocaust, today the reality is different, Netanyahu said.
“Today we have a state, today we have an army,” he said. “We have the ability, obligation and determination to defend ourselves.”
Netanyahu pledged that as prime minister he would not hesitate to tell uncomfortable truths to the world, nor to his own people, which “is strong enough” to hear it.