Such forums have been held since 2005 and are dedicated to the memory of 6 million Jews who became victims of repressions and mass killings on the initiative of Nazi Germany in 1933-45. This year the forum was held in honor of the 75th anniversary of the release of prisoners from the Auschwitz concentration camp. In 2006, a similar forum was held in Kyiv under the leadership of then-President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko and was dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Babi Yar tragedy.
The event has not only historical but also of political significance, since in addition to surviving witnesses, victims of Nazi crimes, representatives of civil society, scientists, heads of state and government also take part. Forum participants discuss the Holocaust, pay attention to the problem of combating antisemitism, protecting the rights of Jews. This year, the World Holocaust Forum was accompanied by international scandals, and a number of high-profile speakers used it as a platform to demonstrate their geopolitical ambitions.
In their speeches, US Vice President Mike Pence and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused on criticizing Iran. Both leaders compared Iran to Nazi Germany in terms of their attitude to the Jewish people, called the Islamic Republic the most anti-Semitic state in the world, given the repeated threats by Iranian politicians and the military to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. They called on the international community to unite to counter the aggressive policy of Iran, mentioned its nuclear program. Pence emphasized that the United States has supported Israel since its appearance on the world map in 1948. The only thing missing was the presence of the owner of the Oval Office, Donald Trump, who does not miss the chance to criticize the ayatollah regime. Now all the attention of the American president is directed on the consideration of the case of his impeachment by the US Senate.
Perhaps even the recognition by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of his country's responsibility for the Holocaust seemed somewhat mundane compared to the rhetoric of Pence and Netanyahu, who presented the ayatollah regime almost like the Fourth Reich. The echoing statements by Pence and Netanyahu were designed to impress European countries. Most European politicians and civil society representatives are extremely negative about everything associated with Nazism, anti-Semitism and other ideologies that are based on the ideas of racial, ethnic and religious discrimination and the superiority of some peoples over others.
Americans and Israelis want their European partners to resume a policy of sanctions against Iran. Tehran is expanding its influence in the Middle East, relying on the Shiite communities of Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, intervening in the internal affairs of these countries like the German Nazis, who sought to turn Europe into their living space and made Volksdeutsche their social base in the occupied states. The harsh rhetoric of Pence and Netanyahu sounded in the context of the ongoing hybrid war in the Middle East between Iran, on the one hand, and the United States, Israel and secular Arab states on the other. Iran and the allied armed groups from the Iraqi People’s Militia do not stop their provocations. Since October 2019, they have fired over 109 missiles at US civilian and military establishments in Iraq.
The latest shelling of the government quarter in Baghdad, where the US embassy is located, occurred on January 21. Iran got out of the nuclear deal and fired at the American base in Iraq in response to the liquidation of General Qassem Suleimani, who refuses dialogue with the United States. Iran’s increased alertness poses a threat to citizens of other countries. Iranian anti-aircraft gunners by mistake shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane on January 8. Europe is limited to criticizing the Ayatollah regime. America and Israel are interested in the resumption of the economic sanctions policy by Europe, which was carried out until 2015.
Pence and Netanyahu wanted to play on the feelings of Persian Jews on the eve of the extraordinary parliamentary elections in Israel in March and the US presidential election in November this year. Jews have lived in Iran since the reign of the Achaemenid dynasty. When the Islamists came to power in 1979, their numbers decreased from 100 000 to 8 000. They emigrated mainly to Israel and the USA. Persian Jews are quite influential in Israeli society. Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Likud party member Benjamin Netanyahu are members of this community. American Jews usually vote for the Democratic Party, but the main electorate of the Republican Party and Trump is represented by Evangelical Protestants who primarily support Israel in their confrontation with Iran and perceive Islamic extremism as a threat. The anti-Iranian sentiment is strong among Trump's team members, including Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, members of the US Senate (like Republican Lindsay Graham).
Anti-Zionism is indeed inherent in Iranian politicians who do not recognize the existence of Israel as a state. They present Israel as an external threat. At the same time, the Iranian authorities tolerate representatives of all religions and ethnic groups, and Jews are no exception. In the Iranian parliament, one seat is reserved for the representative of the Jewish community, which since 2008 has been occupied by Siamak More Sadegh, known as a tough critic of Israel. There are synagogues in Iran. In 2015, Iranian law enforcement officers returned the Torah scroll stolen from a mosque in Shiraz, and former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami visited Yusef Abad Synagogue in 2003, which is one of the largest in Tehran.
The same can be said about the attitude of Americans and Israelis towards Iranians. Up to 1 million Americans of Iranian descent live in the United States. In Los Angeles, there is even the Iranian quarter of Tehrangeles, where 50 000 people live. Trump spoke flatteringly about the Iranians, supporting anti-government protests in their homeland. Netanyahu did record a series of videos in which he spoke of Iranians as talented people who are infringed by their country's power.
Concerned by Russophobia
During a speech at the forum, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed holding a meeting of the leaders of the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, who are permanent members of the UN Security Council, to discuss various issues, including the situation in Libya. According to the director of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, Andrei Kortunov, Putin wants to discuss the state of the modern system of international relations, the problem of lack of unity in the UN Security Council.
In fact, the Russian president proposed holding an alternative meeting of the UN Security Council only at the level of heads of state and government, not permanent representatives. Putin tried to convey from the rostrum of the Holocaust forum his vision of Russia as a global player capable of changing the system of international relations and changing the rules of the game. Russia, along with India, China and South Africa, is promoting the idea of a multipolar world where there is no specific dominant pole. Russia claims to dominate in Eurasia, advocates reducing US influence and therefore uses any reason to impose its vision of international processes. Putin takes advantage of West’s disunity, colder relations between the US and the EU, which is manifested in disagreements on NATO funding, a nuclear deal with Iran, climate protection, trade, as well as Trump’s weaknesses in foreign policy and a penchant for isolationism.
Putin said anti-Semitism is on a par with chauvinism and Russophobia during the opening of the Memorial Candle to the heroes and defenders of Leningrad’s defense in Jerusalem. According to the owner of the Kremlin, the residents of Russia and Israel are supposedly equally concerned about attempts to deny the Holocaust, revise the results of World War II, and rehabilitate criminals. He tried to divert the attention of the international community from the ongoing aggression of Russia in Ukraine, to expose his country as a martyr and victim. The Kremlin considers any critics at Russia’s imposing its influence in the post-Soviet space, sponsoring separatist movements as a manifestation of chauvinism and Russophobia. The Russian authorities often accuse the authorities of Ukraine, Poland, the Baltic countries, and Georgia during the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili of Russophobia and chauvinism.
The forum reflected the recent conflict between Russia and Poland on historical grounds. Polish President Andrzej Duda refused to visit Jerusalem in protest. Unlike Putin, he was not given the word at the opening ceremony. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda canceled his trip to Israel in solidarity with his Polish counterpart. Duda wanted to answer Putin's offensive statements to the Poles at the annual press conference in December 2019. The Kremlin boss said that the prerequisite for the Second World War was not the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, but the Munich Agreement accused the Polish leadership of those years in preparing for the annexation of the Tieszyn district in the Czech Republic.
Putin supported the side of Israel in a historical dispute with Poland. Israel has long been demanding that Poland pay compensation to the relatives of Jews who lost property during the Holocaust. In Poland, there were large concentration camps - Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Chelmno, Belzec, and Sobibor. Poland denies involvement in the Holocaust and even enacted a law on legal liability for accusing citizens of this crime.
Once again, Ukraine was at the epicenter of an international scandal. Either from solidarity with Poland - one of the main partners of Ukraine in the EU and NATO, or in connection with other circumstances, but Ukrainian President Zelensky did not participate in the forum. He attended other official events in Jerusalem, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to the official version, Ukrainian delegation did not go to the forum to give way to those who survived the Holocaust. However, the organizers of the forum did not understand Zelensky’s act and expressed indignation. It looked as if the leader of Ukraine, in which territory there were 200 concentration camps, 50 ghettos and 1.5 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, simply ignored the discussion of issues that were of interest to the Ukrainian Jews themselves. Or as a manifestation of weakness and an attempt to avoid Putin's provocative statements.
To some extent, the Israeli authorities could perceive such a move as banal disrespect or political illiteracy. The version that the Ukrainian president did not attend the forum allegedly because of Putin’s speech is not entirely correct. The Holocaust Forum in Israel has nothing to do with the problems of Ukrainian-Russian relations, it is a platform for exchanging views on a specific issue. If you adhere to this approach, then you can refuse to participate even in the UN, OSCE and other international organizations where Russia participates, which will not affect the end of aggression in eastern Ukraine.