Diplomats operating beyond their duties

February 6, 2018 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has held a commemoration to honour  36 diplomats recognised by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations dedicating a plaque to those saved Jews in the Holocaust.

Australia’s ambassador to Israel Chris Cannan, MK Sharren Heskel and Israel’s ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer


The event was addressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the dedication of the plaque honouring the work of 36 diplomats, from 21 countries, who have been recognised as Righteous Among the Nations.

Photo: Haim Zac

Following is an excerpt of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks: “Six million of our brothers and sisters were slaughtered in the worst atrocity in history.

And this is what makes the people who are honored here so exceptional. Because in the worst darkness that beset the Earth, they lit a candle of righteousness. Yad Vashem calls them, these men and women, Righteous Among the Nations.

I once visited, when I went to serve in the UN, I went to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and he had some criticism of the UN. He said it doesn’t always represent the truth, and now I’m really polishing what he said. He said, but remember that if you light a small candle of truth, its glow will carry far and wide. These people lit candles of truth and candles of humanity in the sea of darkness and we shall forever remember them.

This plaque that we dedicate today recognizes these brave diplomats, who acted by the dictates of their conscience without regard for personal and professional consequence.

When Esther Ofiri’s mother took her from an attic in Hungary to the Swedish delegation, a young diplomat listened to her mother’s pleas and immediately responded, don’t worry, soon we’ll give you protective passes. And that man was Raoul Wallenberg, a hero among heroes. On July 9th, 1944, Wallenberg arrived in Budapest to serve at the Swedish embassy, and when he realized how many Jews needed his help, he threw diplomatic caution to the wind, he worked tirelessly to save Jews, he issued thousands of protective letters and placed the Swedish flag, he placed the Swedish flag over buildings housing Jews. It’s almost like Moses in Egypt. He claimed that columns of Jews who had been marched to the Austrian border were under Swedish protection.

There are lesser known heroes. They are all on this wall and they should be known. We should teach our people, I think all of humanity, their courage and example, diplomats like Captain Francis Foley of the United Kingdom and Ho Feng-Shan of China and the others. They deserve to be household names. It’s a matter of justice, but it’s also a matter of educating future generations. So we chose to place this plaque with these brave diplomats’ names here in a prominent place of our Foreign Ministry, because these are the kind of people we ask our young diplomats to emulate. Men and women of boundless courage, men and women of the deepest moral character. By the way, many of them were castigated by their foreign ministries and for many of them their career came to a swift end. But they risked everything for the truth and the first thing is establishing the truth. It wasn’t easy to do that because the truth was hidden by iron curtains of lies and deception. The truth is not always easy to establish today either by different means, but the first thing they wanted to establish was the truth. Once they learned the truth, they risked everything for our common humanity, and for that, we and history will justly remember them as heroes.

The truth about the Holocaust must always be studied. It must always be remembered. Israel works closely with our partners around the world to defend and reveal the truth about the Holocaust. We expect to do that with every country, including Poland. Above all, future generations must internalize the lessons of the Holocaust. I think the most important lesson for all humanity is that hatred, extreme ideologies, these must always be confronted early when there is time to nip them at the bud.

We Jews have learned to believe our enemies when they call for our annihilation. We’ve learned that we must be able to defend ourselves by ourselves against any potential threat. The State of Israel not only has internalised these lessons, it practices it. We hold our hand out to peace for any of our neighbors who wish peace with us, and there are quite a few, and their number is growing, I’m happy to say, and I hope it will extend to all. But we are forever conscious of the danger to us and to the rest of mankind of those who want to exterminate us, ultimately they exterminate the world we all want to keep and cherish.

But in my people’s darkest hour, a few noble men and women bucked their superiors to save Jewish lives. Israel saluted them. We shall forever honor their memory.”

Before the dedication, Prime Minister Netanyahu attended a conference of Israeli ambassadors to African, Latin American and Asia-Pacific countries. He briefed them on Israel’s strengths and the diplomatic ties stemming therefrom. “With our economic policy, we have turned Israel into a global technological force and therefore it is now a rising global power. My expectation is that each one of you, in your respective countries, will leverage these ties,” the Prime Minister said.

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