EU leaders travel to Jerusalem to commemorate the Holocaust, political talks with Israel not foreseen

EU leaders travel to Jerusalem to commemorate the Holocaust, political talks with Israel not foreseen
Preparations at the Israeli president's esidence, credit: GPO

The three EU leaders, European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President David Sassoli will all attend the World Holocaust Forum 2020 in Jerusalem on Thursday (23 January).

The forum, entitled “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism”, commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Soviet Red Army. It will take place at the Warsaw Ghetto Square at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center.

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has invited more than 45 heads of state, prime ministers and parliamentary leaders from Europe, North-America and Australia and will host them at dinner at his residence on Wednesday evening.

This will be the first visit in Israel of the three presidents of the European institutions since taking office. In a common message they said that, “revisionism and lack of education are threatening the common understanding of the uniqueness of the Shoah that is necessary to translate “Never Again” into concrete action now”.

“We cannot change history, but the lessons of history can change us”, they added.

Besides president Rivlin and prime minister Netanyahu, a number of guests have been invited to address the forum: US vice-president Pence, Russian president Putin, French president Macron, British crown prince Charles, and German president Steinmeier.

The event is clouded by a diplomatic row with Poland, whose president Andrzej Duda was not allowed to address the forum and therefore will not attend it. The reasons for the refusal are not clear. Poland was the site of the Nazi extermination camps and suffered more than any other country under the Nazi occupation.

President Putin has lately tried to deflect the blame for the outbreak of WWII on Poland. In fact, it was the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, signed by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany on 23 August 1939, that divided Central and Eastern Europe and led to the outbreak of the second world war a week later.

On Thursday, Putin, Rivlin and Netanyahu will also dedicate a monument in memory of the heroism of the soldiers and residents of Leningrad during the siege in WWII at a park in Jerusalem.

The Israeli president will be busy and will have bilateral working meetings with invited leaders from the EU member states at his residence, including council president Michel and King Philippe of the Belgians.

The Israeli prime minister will only meet a few leaders, reportedly Macron, Putin, Pence and US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi. An Israeli spokesperson told The Brussels Times that no meeting with the EU leaders have been announced as of yet. The absence of such a meeting will be interpreted as a sign of political tension between the Netanyahu government and the EU.

“I welcome the leaders from around the world who are coming here, to Jerusalem, to mark – together 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 where we have gone,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

The heads of state and world leaders, who were invited to the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, have written letters stating their pledge to remember the Holocaust and to take measures to combat rising antisemitism. These statements have been collated in a book, titled “Remembering the Holocaust, Fighting Antisemitism”, which will be presented to the forum.

The international working definition of antisemitism, which has been endorsed by the EU, labels among others Holocaust denial, denial of Israel’s right to exist and comparing Israeli policy to that of Nazi Germany, as a form of antisemitism. Legitimate criticism of Israel, similar to that levelled against any other country, cannot be regarded as antisemitic.

The Brussels Times

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