President Herzog implores Europe to fight 'pandemic of antisemitism at all costs'

Addressing the European Parliament on Thursday, President Herzog paid tribute to the six million Jewish men, women, and children murdered in the Holocaust


In an address ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, Israel's president Isaac Herzog expressed fears about antisemitism rising across Europe once again and called on European leaders to "detect the symptoms of the pandemic of antisemitism, and fight it at all costs".

Addressing the European Parliament on Thursday, President Herzog paid tribute to the six million Jewish men, women, and children murdered in the Holocaust, and called on Europe's elected representatives to "ensure that every Jew wanting to live a full Jewish life in your countries may do so safely and fearlessly".

President Herzog opened his speech explaining how his grandfather and namesake, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Dr. Yitzhak Isaac HaLevi Herzog, "embarked on a search and rescue mission for his Jewish sisters and brothers all across the ravaged continent of Europe".

He spoke of the destruction of "millions of worlds, one third of the Jewish People", telling European elected representatives of the decimation of Warsaw, the hunt for Jews on the Greek island of Rhodes, and of the "deranged obsession" of the Nazis in their mission to destroy every last Jewish person.

President Herzog's father, Chaim Herzog, was an officer in the British Army during World War II, landing on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe. He told legislators of the horrors his father encountered: "I shall never forget how he described to me the horrors that unfolded before his eyes, as one of the first liberators of the death camps, including Bergen-Belsen. The human skeletons in the striped pyjamas, the hell on earth, the stench, the heart of darkness."

Turning to present day, President Herzog reminded the European Parliament that the Holocaust "was not born in a vacuum", and that antisemitism is a hate as old as time.

"Even before a single extermination camp was built, in the minds of the masses, the Jew was already human dust, sub-human," he said. "It is precisely for this reason, precisely because the Holocaust was predicated on much older antisemitic foundations that had taken root and flourished in Europe, that this dark abyss is a terrible, profound, and compelling lesson for the whole of Europe."

He spoke of his fears of rising antisemitism today, fuelled by the internet, and called on European leaders to fight it at all costs and demanded that they adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism: "You and your countries must use every tool at your disposal, from education and legislation to security and enforcement, to deter and eradicate hatred, racism, and antisemitism in all their forms."

Turning to the State of Israel, he drew a clear line between criticism of the government and antisemitic speech: "Our country is open to criticism like all members in the family of nations, and Israeli democracy certainly excels in fierce and penetrating internal criticism.

"However—and this is the important and critical difference—criticism of the State of Israel must not cross the line into negation of the very existence of the State of Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish People, as recognised by the institutions of the international community.

"Casting doubt on the nation-state of the Jewish people’s right to exist is not legitimate diplomacy! It is antisemitism in the full sense of the word, and it must be thoroughly uprooted. The rule is simple: criticism of us must pass the basic test of fairness and integrity, and it must not cross the line into dehumanisation or delegitimisation."

He spoke of the vast number of Jews who have made aliyah to Israel, and praised Israel's "unparalleled human mosaic of Jews and Arabs, people of every religion and faith."

"We have extended a hand in peace and have forged unprecedented alliances and peace accords, including the Abraham Accords, which have transformed and continue to dramatically transform the Middle East, and I pray for the day we can reach peace with our Palestinian neighbours as well."

He sharply criticised Iran, which he said "publicly calls for the complete annihilation of my country but is also murdering its own countrymen and women, who are demanding liberty and human and civil rights, stoking wars throughout the Middle East, playing an active and lethal role in the war in Ukraine, and developing weapons of mass destruction on the way to dramatically threatening the stability of the entire globe."

Closing his address, President Herzog called on European nations to strengthen relations with Israel: "If we believe that the voice of justice has not been silenced, if we believe in another, more compassionate humanity, we must work together as a single community, determined and cohesive, against the forces of darkness and hatred that threaten to destroy us."

"I call on you and your nations to move to broaden, deepen, and strengthen our partnership. There is so much we can and must do together, for our sake, for the sake of the future and for the sake of future generations."

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