Live Updates: World Leaders Gather in Israel, 75 Years After Holocaust

Live Updates: World Leaders Gather in Israel, 75 Years After Holocaust

Credit…Sovfoto/UIG, via Getty Images

Jerusalem is being swarmed by Western presidents, premiers and potentates, all descending on the Holy City to recall the Holocaust and speak out against anti-Semitism some 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz.

It is a gathering like nothing Israel has experienced before.

But an event that might seem to be focused squarely on the past has been caught up in controversies and concerns of the present, with violence against Jews on the rise in Europe and North America, and with a noisy row between Russia and Poland over their roles in the start of World War II playing out this week on Israeli turf.

The kings of Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, Britain’s Prince Charles and the presidents of Russia, France, Germany, Italy and Ukraine are among those leading nearly 50 delegations attending the events. They begin with a Wednesday dinner at the residence of President Reuven Rivlin of Israel and culminate in an afternoon ceremony Thursday at Yad Vashem, the hillside Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

For Israel, the participation of so many world leaders is a point of pride: Only the funerals of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former President Shimon Peres attracted more, officials say.

But the turnout also points to the seriousness with which anti-Semitic rhetoric and violence is viewed in the West and in Israel — and offers representatives of countries considered hotbeds of anti-Jewish hatred a chance at least to demonstrate their revulsion for it on an international stage.

The event at Yad Vashem will feature speeches by representatives from four of the main Allied powers: Vice President Mike Pence, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Prince Charles and President Emmanuel Macron of France. Germany’s president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has called World War II a “German crime” and apologized for the Holocaust, will also speak, as will Mr. Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and event organizers.

Jerusalem is only the first stop for some of the leaders participating. The actual anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Red Army troops, on Jan. 27, 1945, will be observed, as it is each year, at the site of the infamous death camp in Poland on Monday. In addition, Mr. Rivlin is to address the German Bundestag, in Hebrew, at Mr. Steinmeier’s invitation on Jan. 29.

Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, was invited to the Jerusalem gathering but declined to attend over a perceived snub: He was not given a speaking slot, though Mr. Putin was.

The two have been engaged in a bitter dispute for months, with each accusing the other of trying to rewrite — and weaponize — history: Mr. Putin has sought to portray Russia as having saved the world from Nazism, and Poland as more a perpetrator than a victim of the Holocaust. Mr. Duda argues that the Soviet Union’s 1939 pact with Germany paved the way to war, and that Mr. Putin is reviving old Stalinist propaganda as a modern-day cudgel.

“I am sorry to say this, but President Putin is knowingly spreading historical lies,” Mr. Duda said in an interview with Israeli public television that aired Tuesday.

Fueling speculation that the Jerusalem gathering was being given a pro-Russian tilt is that its main organizer is Viatcheslav Moshe Kantor, a Russian-Jewish billionaire with close ties to Mr. Putin. His group, the World Holocaust Forum Foundation, held similar events in Poland in 2005 and 2010, Ukraine in 2006, and the Czech Republic in 2015.

But Yad Vashem’s chairman, Avner Shalev, said in an interview that Mr. Kantor had not exerted any such influence: “It’s not true.” Decisions on who would speak were made many months ago, he said, and to bend to accommodate Mr. Duda would be untenable when many other leaders were denied similar requests.

Mr. Shalev said he believed that having so many heads of state, government and parliaments making such a collective demonstration of resolve to fight anti-Semitism was well worth it, though he acknowledged that the Russia-Poland crossfire has been a headache.

“We’re in the business of historical truth,” he said. “We don’t want to play any political game.”

A last-minute casualty of the dispute was President Gitanas Nauseda of Lithuania, a former Soviet republic, who pulled out of the Yad Vashem event on Tuesday, reportedly in solidarity with Mr. Duda. Mr. Nauseda has joined Mr. Duda in accusing Mr. Putin of trying to sanitize Russia’s 1939 pact with Hitler.

Tiny Israel has never had to tend to so many V.I.P.’s at once, complete with overnight stays and scores of elaborate schedules, and its diplomatic corps, police force and other government agencies were scrambling to prepare. (Leaders who attended the Rabin and Peres funerals mostly flew in and out on the same day.)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs employs only five protocol officers, but many others were pitching in, including retirees. Some 10,000 police officers were being deployed to provide security and direct traffic, more than a third of the 29,000-strong nationwide force, along with hundreds more volunteers.

Asked on television what he feared most about what could go wrong, Ofer Shomer, a Jerusalem district police commander, replied, “Fear is not a word that exists with us.” The Israel Police force, he said, was highly experienced and had prepared for every scenario, from freak weather to sabotage.

King David Street, with its luxury hotels housing many leaders, was being “hermetically sealed,” the police said. And no-fly zones for all aircraft, including drones, were established over the main gathering points: Yad Vashem, the Israeli president’s residence, and the Crowne Plaza hotel, where Vice President Pence will be staying.

At the presidential residence, officials detailed the preparations for Wednesday’s dinner with breathless detail, noting even that “the grand piano has been tuned.”

But the home’s modest proportions were not enough to accommodate all 250 attendees. Only 60 ranking guests were to be seated indoors, in a soaring room showcasing 1970s-era Israeli art. Their “plus-ones” were to dine in a tent outside. Another tent was reserved for their many bodyguards.

The gathering came smack in Israel’s wintry rainy season. And with heavy downpours and even some flurries drenching Jerusalem on Tuesday, the president’s aides also mustered hundreds of portable heaters to keep the luminaries stuck outside from freezing.


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