Rivlin lashed out at Marine Le Pen, the nationalist French leader who came in second in the first round of voting in the French presidential election and on Monday called for a “war” against a new kind of “holocaust denial”.
“As a sovereign state that has gained national independence, we have a duty to demand from other nations and states not to evade responsibility,” Rivlin said. “We must wage a war against the current and dangerous wave of holocaust denial. We must resist the renunciation of national responsibility in the name of alleged victimhood.”
Denying collective collaboration with the Nazis attempts to turn all of Europe into victims, the president argued. “This is a denial that seeks to annul the political and moral responsibility that must stand at the heart of memory of the holocaust for generations to come. Victimization is the most comprehensive and effective note of exemption from responsibility,” he said.
As victims, Europeans will be unwilling to assume responsibility to fight modern-day anti-Semitism, xenophobia and increasing nationalist violence, Rivlin said. “This is not a denial of the very existence of the holocaust, but a denial of the distinction between a victim and a criminal.”
Without naming Le Pen, Rivlin referred to a “French presidential candidate” who “denied France’s responsibility for the deportation of its Jewish during the Second World War,” said Rivlin in his speech at Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot in Galilee on Monday.
Rivlin was referring to an interview Le Pen gave on RTL radio earlier this month saying that France could not bear collective responsibility for the round up of 13 000 Jews in 1942 at the Vel d’Hiv cycling stadium before they were transported to German concentration camps.
Le Pen drew condemnation from other presidential candidates as well as Israel’s Foreign Ministry when she suggested earlier this month that guilt should be ascribed only to guilty parties and not indiscriminately.
Responsibility lied, she said, with the people who committed the the atrocity at the time, not with the nation of France collectively. Many French people who were born after the war for example, could not be judged in this manner.
Le Pen said that “if there are people responsible” for the deportation of French Jews, “it’s those who were in power at the time. It’s not France”.
The Israel Foreign Ministry called her remarks “contrary to historical truth” and warned that generations of French people should be held responsible for holocaust crimes. “The denial of responsibility of the crimes committed in the days of the Second World War is Holocaust denial of a new, more destructive and dangerous kind from that we have known until now,” Rivlin said.
Israel’s president described Le Pen’s remarks as “uniquely disturbing” and urged his country not to make “unholy alliances” with rising nationalist parties in Europe.
Jewish scholars and others have pointed with increasing alarm to attempts by some in Europe to place the holocaust in the context of Soviet atrocities, with nationalists in some countries viewing themselves as victims of Communism, Rivlin remarked.
“And in every place that message is the same: we are not responsible for the holocaust. We are not responsible for the extermination of the Jewish people which occurred within our borders,” he said.
Some may believe that nationalist parties such as Le Pen’s National Front, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party and other groups called “xenophobic” and “Islamophobic” by the establishment, are natural allies with Israel, but “we must recall that there was and will be nothing in common with anti-Semites in any shape or form,” the president declared.
Although Wilders has repeatedly said that he stands with Israel, the umbrella group of Dutch Jewish communities condemned Wilders for asking supporters whether they wanted to see fewer Dutch Moroccans.
“As representatives of the Jewish community of the Netherlands, we forcefully distance ourselves from his statements,” Jaap Fransman, the chairman of the Centraal Joods Overleg umbrella group said in a statement at the time. Wilders was found guilty of hate speech last year over his remarks about Moroccan immigrants.
Wilders lived in Israel for two years during his youth and is said to have visited 40 times in the last 25 years. In 2010, after elections in which his party came third, he declared that “Jordan is Palestine” and that “changing its name to Palestine will end the conflict in the Middle East and provide the Palestinians with an alternate homeland.”
He also warned that “If Jerusalem falls into the hands of the Muslims, Athens and Rome will be next. Thus, Jerusalem is the main front protecting the West. It is not a conflict over territory but rather an ideological battle, between the mentality of the liberated West and the ideology of Islamic barbarism.”
The ceremony marking Israel’s Holocaust memorial day was attended by former German President Joachim Gauck. Gauck, taking the podium after Rivlin, said he was moved to spend Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel and vowed to continue fighting holocaust denial.
Future generations of Germans will “not have an identity unblemished by Auschwitz,” Gauck added. “The special and lasting connection between our peoples and Germany’s particular solidarity with the democratic State of Israel will remain part of their identity.”