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Aside from Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, Holocaust Memorial day in Israel is probably the most solemn day on the Israeli Jewish calendar, a day of mourning and reflection, a day to commemorate the victims, but also to ponder our current situation and try and comprehend how all this fits in to the continuity of Jewish history.
For Jewish Israelis, the Holocaust is a living memory, not only because survivors of that tragedy, our grandparents, great uncles and aunts, are still among us to testify and remind us of the horrors that they survived, but also because of our more recent history, and the fact that anti-Semitism continues to be a serious problem, practically the world over, and that we remain the target of genocidal threats.
And it is in that context that we process the ostensibly "sensational" acknowledgement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the murder of the Jews during the Holocaust was "the most heinous crime against humanity in modern history."
Given the fact that Abbas in the past (in his doctorate) had not only denied the Holocaust, but had even accused the Zionist movement of active collusion with the Nazis in its implementation, his statement should have been a cause for elation. To say that this was not the case, not among Israel's political leaders, let alone among the broad majority of the populace, would be a gross understatement.
After all, it was only a few days previously, that the same Abu Mazen signed a covenant with the Hamas movement, which not only denies the Holocaust and the right of the State of Israel to exist, but has been actively trying to kill Jewish civilians to advance their goal of eliminating the Jewish state.
Perhaps if Abbas had indicated that he now understands that the former Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin El-Husseini, who actively collaborated with the Nazis and hoped that the Final Solution would be implemented in the Holy Land, must be considered a war criminal, rather than a Palestinian hero, his statement most probably would have been received much more seriously.
Yet it was not only what was missing from Abbas' declaration that undermined his credibility, but also the ongoing incitement against Israel and Jews in the official media of the Palestinian Authority which he controls, and in this context especially the frequent comparisons of Israelis to Nazis, that are far more convincing than a hollow political statement, which can best be considered a pathetic fig leaf for the continuing indoctrination of our neighbors with the same kind of rhetoric that ultimately paved the way for the Holocaust.
In that respect, Yom Hashoa (Israeli Holocaust remembrance day) was, under the current circumstances, the worst possible date for Abbas to deliver his statement, but unfortunately, the most appropriate for Israelis to be reminded that we still face existential threats even almost seven decades after we were the primary victims of the most genocidal regime in human history.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office. His most recent book Operation Last Chance; One Man's Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice (Palgrave/Macmillan) chronicles the worldwide efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice over the past more than three decades.
The Center's special website for this issue is: www.operationlastchance.org and one can follow Dr. Zuroff on Facebook and Twitter (@EZuroff). Information on the worldwide activities of the Simon Wiesenthal Center can be viewed at www.wiesenthal.com.