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When the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was dedicated in 1993, it had no equivalent in continental Europe. Berlin’s Jewish Museum only opened to visitors six years later. Yet America’s sins during the Holocaust were, at most, sins of omission. For continental Europe, it was a different story.

Today, the landscape has changed. Holocaust museums and memorials are springing up like mushrooms across much of the continent which — both as witness and accomplice — hosted the slaughter of six million Jews. The infamy of the Shoah has been elevated to the incarnation of the purest form of evil, and stands at the centre of united Europe’s new identity. Europeans reclaim Europe’s Jewish past as their own, through museums and lovingly restored synagogues. Klezmer and Yiddish are in; jackboot extremism is out.

Nevertheless, there remains an intense and disturbing ambiguity in Europe’s relationship with its own past — sublimated in Europe’s relations with Israel. This ambiguity was on display recently, as Israel celebrated its 60th anniversary. Zionism — the movement for Jewish self-determination — long predated the Holocaust. Israel was not born out of a sense of guilt for the near extinction of European Jewry. Yet the tragedy of the Holocaust is inextricably linked to Israel’s birth. Europe’s commitment to Israel’s survival should be a fixture of Europe’s foreign policy, at least as much as the perpetuation of mem­ory is a fixture of its identity — especially now, in the light of mounting threats by Iran to annihilate Israel. The Iranian parliamentary speaker, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, recently announced that “the countdown for Israel’s destruction” had begun.

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