17th Sep 2019

Europe and Israel cement relations at Holocaust solemnities

  • A sign at the Auschwitz concentration camp: over 1 million people were murdered at the facility (Photo: icrf)

Sixty five years after Soviet troops liberated the German death camp in Auschwitz, Poland, European leaders will on Wednesday (27 January) pay tribute to Jewish suffering during the Holocaust.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Polish president and prime minister, education ministers from around 30 countries and European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek will take part in the main solemnities at the concentration camp.

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Nazi forces murdered over 1 million people at Auschwitz, the vast majority of them Jews, as well as tens of thousands of Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war.

"I say to God my rock, 'Why have you forgotten me?'" Rabbis and Roman Catholic priests will say, in the words of Psalm 42 from the Old Testament, during a prayer at the events in Poland.

The Israeli president, its foreign minister and deputy foreign minister will also take part at ceremonies in Germany, Hungary and Slovakia.

With contemporary politics intertwined in the commemorations, the Israeli delegations on Tuesday in Warsaw and Berlin pressed the EU to impose sanctions on Iran due to the country's intransigence over its nuclear programme. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, has described the Holocaust as a myth.

Mr Netanyahu in Warsaw thanked Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk for his support for Israeli interests at EU level and unveiled a plan to hold annual summits with Polish leaders in future.

Poland and Germany, together with France, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, are part of a pro-Israeli bloc inside the union, which, for example, diluted a recent EU declaration on Palestinian rights to East Jerusalem and attacked a UN report into alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

A study out on Sunday by the Jewish Agency for Israel, the organisation in charge of immigration by the Jewish diaspora, said that anti-Semitism is rife in the EU despite the behaviour of its political elites.

The report noted that there were more anti-Semitic incidents in Europe in the first three months of 2009, in the wake of a bloody Israeli attack on Gaza, than in all of 2008.

In Poland, 72 percent of respondents to a survey agreed with the statement that: "Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era."

Buzek under fire

The Polish head of the EU parliament, Jerzy Buzek, the most senior EU representative at the Auschwitz ceremony, has himself come under fire from Jewish scholars in recent days.

Mr Buzek's support for an EU parliament declaration, which put Nazi and Stalinist crimes on a similar moral level, is part of a movement to diminish the importance of the Holocaust, Shimon Samuels from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Paris told Israeli press.

Mr Buzek's office was surprised by the attack, pointing out his past work on behalf of the Auschwitz museum.

"The Auschwitz camp is the largest human cemetery in history, a place where the memory of murdered Jews, Poles, Russians and the citizens of many other countries, reposes. The Holocaust, the Shoah, is a unique and repulsive act of its kind, of the greatest genocide in the deeds of humanity," Mr Buzek told this website.

Jewish activists say that anti-Semitism is often cloaked in language criticising the Israeli state.

"A line has to be drawn," Michael Jankelowitz, the Jewish Agency's spokesman, said. "The minute people start using Holocaust similarities [comparing Israeli actions to those of the Nazi regime], they start being anti-Semitic."

"We have often been accused of anti-Semitism. Some of our workers are Jewish and have been called self-hating Jews," Bill Esveld, the Jerusalem-based analyst for Human Rights Watch, told EUobserver. "Groups like my own try to be constructively critical of Israeli policies but do not criticise the Israeli state and certainly not Jewish people."

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Hungary was quizzed by EU ministers over its domestic crackdown on media, judges, academia and NGOs. Hungary's minister responded by saying the country had defended "the European way of life" for centuries, and it should be respected.

EU divided on how to protect rule of law

Poland and Hungary have argued that rule of law is purely a domestic matter and the EU should respect legal traditions, but Dutch foreign minister warned backsliding was a worry for all.

Catalonia celebrates national day ahead of trial verdicts

Catalonia celebrated on Wednesday its national day - while awaiting the trial verdict on 12 Catalan separatists, former politicians of Carles Puigdemont's government. That decision is expected for early October.

Those tricky commissioner candidates in full

Three central European commission nominees can expect to feel the heat from MEPs later this month, with the Hungarian candidate emerging as the most controversial.

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