JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged Monday not to allow Holocaust deniers the chance to carry out a second Holocaust against the Jewish people.
He spoke at the ceremony marking Israel's annual memorial day for the 6 million Jews killed by Nazis and their collaborators during World War II, but the event fell under the shadow of a U.N. anti-racisim conference in Geneva perceived in Israel as anti-Semitic.
Netanyahu criticized the president of Switzerland for meeting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the conference. Netanyahu said the Iranian leader, who has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, has denied the existence of the Holocaust.
"We will not allow the Holocaust deniers to carry out another Holocaust against the Jewish people. This is the supreme duty of the state of Israel. This is my supreme duty as prime minister of Israel," Netanyahu said, speaking at Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial and study center.
Earlier Monday at the conference in Geneva, the Iranian president accused Israel of being the "most cruel and repressive racist regime" and the West of using the Holocaust as a "pretext" for aggression against Palestinians. His comments prompted European diplomats to walk out of the conference.
In research released to coincide with the memorial day, a study found that anti-Semitic incidents worldwide declined in 2008 but spiked during Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip in January. A demographer calculated that if the Holocaust had not occurred, the world's Jewish population would be more than double now.
Also, Yad Vashem has been upgrading its Web site to offer research tools. Its latest entry is "The Untold Stories," devoted to documenting the massacres of Jews in small and medium-sized communities that had been lost to history.
In its annual report on anti-Semitism, The Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism at Tel Aviv University found that anti-Jewish incidents dropped 11 percent in 2008, including 560 cases of violence, compared to 632 in 2007.
But Israel's military offensive against Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip reversed the trend. The researchers estimated that there were 1,000 incidents during January, more than 10 times the number in January 2008.
The study counted both violent incidents and verbal and visual expressions and said that 90 of the January incidents fit the violent category, three times the number of the previous January. While violent attacks dipped in February and March, verbal and visual anti-Israel and anti-Jewish expressions had not subsided.
The Israeli researchers, working in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress, noted a theme in anti-Israel demonstrations: equating Israel with Nazi Germany, with signs incorporating the Israeli star with the Nazi swastika. The report said the intention was "to underline that if Nazism, the monster of the modern era, has no right to exist, then the Jewish state and its supporters, too, should be eliminated."
The mass slaughter of Jews in Europe has cost the Jewish people at least half its population, according to calculations by demographer Sergio DellaPergola of Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He built a model that projected that without the Holocaust, there would be between 26 million and 32 million Jews in the world today. DellaPergola said in an earlier study that as of the beginning of 2008, there were about 13 million Jews worldwide.
He figured in several factors, including destruction of cultural frameworks, increased intermarriage as a way of avoiding oppression and the high proportion of children, more than 1 million, among the victims.
"Untold Stories," the new feature on the Yad Vashem Web site, documents 51 small and medium sites in German-occupied areas of the former Soviet Union it says have not been chronicled up to now. At the top of the page is a picture of a scrap of paper with a few Yiddish lines on it, found in a woman's clothing at the site of a mass murder in Lithuania.
"My dearest, before I die, I am writing a few words," it says. "We are about to die, 5,000 innocent people. They are cruelly shooting us."
The memorial day, which began after sunset, continues Tuesday with the sounding of air-raid sirens for a nationwide minute of silence in memory of the victims, followed by an official wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem. In honor of the solemnity of the day, restaurants, bars and places of entertainment are closed in Israel.