Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Holocaust Remembered: Israel Rethinks Its Policy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Holocaust Remembered: Israel Rethinks Its Policy

Article excerpt

IT is a stark reminder of Israel's painful history that the planned ceremonies for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp were overshadowed Jan. 22 by a bomb detonated by Islamic extremists.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, scheduled to deliver a speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, had to instead visit the gruesome scene of the blast in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, where 19 young Israelis were killed.

The Holocaust memorial - which recalls the extermination of about 6 million Jews in Nazi concentration camps during World War II - is one of the few Israeli institutions about which there is a national consensus.

But the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where some 1.5 million Jews perished, has been shrouded in controversy as Israel enters a new era and struggles to come to terms with its past.

In recognition of the central role that the Holocaust played in the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, a visit to Yad Vashem has been compulsory for all foreign visitors to help them understand the Jewish struggle for survival.

Israelis were shocked on Jan. 10, when Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin announced that it would no longer be compulsory for guests to visit Yad Vashem.

The decision brought an immediate barrage of criticism from Jews across the political spectrum. "This is a government that has an ambivalent attitude toward the Jewish past...," says Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "Any person who wants to understand why the existence of the Jewish state is so important has to understand the Holocaust and its implications." Arabs decline visit

The government's immediate dilemma was clear. As Israel moves closer to peace with its Arab neighbors, some Arab leaders have indicated they prefer not to visit the memorial. …

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