Later this week, a bevy of the world’s top leaders will be in Jerusalem to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and participate in the Fifth World Holocaust Forum.
It should come as no surprise that Israeli politicians gearing up for the nation’s third election in less than a year are eager to use the occasion as a campaign photo-op.
And, according to his detractors, the first in line to exploit the Holocaust in this way is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Who’s guests are they?
Among the dignitaries arriving this week are Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Emmanuel Macron, US Vice President Mike Pence, Prince Charles, as well as the kings of Spain and Sweden. In all, 40 international leaders will be coming, the third largest such gathering in Israel after the funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
These august guests were all officially invited by Israel President Reuven Rivlin, and he is the official host. However, there is rumbling from Rivlin’s office that Netanyahu is attempting to usurp that role.
Indeed, in the two previous election cycles, Netanyahu aggressively highlighted his warm relations with both the US and Russian administrations. And a high-profile photo-op with both Pence and Putin would be icing on that cake ahead of the March 2 vote.
The opposition “Blue and White” faction similarly complained last month that if Netanyahu is going to be in the international limelight later this week, then party leader Benny Gantz must be given the same opportunity.
“We know what Netanyahu will make of this ceremony and it needs to stop,” read a letter sent by “Blue and White” to Channel 13 News.
Ultimately, the Yad Vashem Holocaust History Museum rejected Gantz’s petition to address this Thursday’s proceedings, no doubt concerned that what is supposed to be a solemn day of international soul-searching will instead turn into another Israel election campaign event.
Netanyahu’s woes, Israel’s shame
No matter how much he makes of the opportunity to schmooze with the rich and famous, Netanyahu’s present legal woes will undoubtedly cast a shadow on the entire affair.
Indeed, some argue that given the fact he’s been officially indicted for corruption, having Netanyahu play host (even if he’s not technically the host) to the leaders of the international community on such an important occasion paints Israel in a less-than-favorable light.
While Pence, Putin and Britain’s future king are here, the Knesset will be loudly (meaning it will be competing with the dignitaries for front-page headlines) debating what to do with Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity.
Maintaining his absolute innocence, Netanyahu insists that so long as he’s serving as prime minister, he cannot be prosecuted.
Many others disagree, and Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon has ruled that the Knesset House Committee can and should be formed and called to session to determine Netanyahu’s fate.
So far, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has refrained from calling a vote on the matter, but this will be one of the top news items greeting world leaders as they read the morning paper later this week.