Israel comes to a halt to commemorate the Holocaust

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Israel comes at a standstill to commemorate the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust

Israel comes at a standstill to commemorate the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust (AFP Photo/THOMAS COEX)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israelis stopped their cars and stood still, often with heads bowed, for two minutes Thursday for the country's annual commemoration of the six million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Sirens rang out nationwide during the commemoration, while pedestrians and drivers in Jerusalem, the bustling seaside city of Tel Aviv and elsewhere stood on roadsides and in the middle of streets in silence.

Israel began commemorations on Wednesday night with a ceremony at its Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem that included speeches from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.

With repeated warnings about a rise in anti-Semitism globally, there were also newer approaches to spreading awareness of the Nazi genocide to a younger generation.

A privately created Instagram account based on the life of a 13-year-old Holocaust victim, eva.stories, had grown to more than 800,000 followers by Thursday afternoon.

Posts to the account trace her life as if she had Instagram at the time.

Netanyahu in his comments on Wednesday night said "we are living nowadays in a paradox."

"The worldwide admiration for the Jewish state is accompanied within certain circles by a growing hatred towards Jews," he said.

"The radical right, the radical left and radical Islam all agree on one thing only: hatred towards Jews."

He also pointedly referred to Saturday's shooting in a California synagogue that killed one person and wounded three others, two of them Israelis.

Rivlin, without specifying names, warned against allying with leaders who employ new forms of anti-Semitism.

Netanyahu has been criticised for forming alliances with right-wing European leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban as a way of countering European Union criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Orban has faced allegations of stoking anti-Semitism in Hungary with nationalist rhetoric and a campaign against US Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

"Not every right-wing party in Europe that believes in controlling immigration or in protecting its unique character is anti-Semitic or xenophobic," Rivlin said.

"But political forces where anti-Semitism and racism are part of their language, their legacy or their ideology can never be our allies."

A report on Wednesday warned anti-Semitism was on the rise in parts of North America and Europe where Jews once felt safe and spoke of an "increasing sense of emergency."

Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, sounded the alarm in an annual report from his Kantor Center that draws on official statistics.

"In 2018, we witnessed the largest number of Jews murdered in a single year since decades," Kantor said, deploring a 13-percent rise in "severe and violent" incidents.

The Anti-Defamation League said in a report published Tuesday that anti-Semitic incidents in the United States remained at near-record high levels in 2018.

That included an October attack at a synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people, the deadliest ever attack against American Jews.