Jerusalem: Dozens of world leaders will convene in Jerusalem on Thursday to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, amid a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States.
However, Poland's president will stay away due to rankling disputes with both Russia and Israel.
Israel has hailed the World Holocaust Forum at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre as the biggest international gathering in its history, and Russian President Vladimir Putin and US Vice President Mike Pence are among the attendees.
Poland will host its own commemorative event at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum south of the country on Jan. 27. More than one million people, most of them Jews, were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust.
Speeches at the Jerusalem event are likely to focus on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust as well as a more recent rise in anti-Semitism rhetoric and attacks worldwide.
A global survey by the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League in November found that global anti-Semitic attitudes had increased, and significantly in Eastern and Central Europe. It found that large percentages of people in many European countries think Jews talk too much about the Holocaust.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressed this at a reception he hosted on Wednesday for the visiting leaders.
"I hope and pray ... that the leaders of the world will stand united in the fight against racism, anti-Semitism and extremism, in defending democracy and democratic values. This is our challenge. This is our choice," he said.
In Jerusalem, the high-profile guest list, which includes French President Emmanuel Macron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Britain's Prince Charles, could also burnish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's image as a statesman at home ahead of a March 2 election.
Fighting for political survival in Israel's third ballot in less than a year, Netanyahu has been using sideline meetings with international leaders at the conference to call for more sanctions against arch-enemy Iran.
France, along with Britain and Germany, declared Iran in violation of a 2015 nuclear pact last week. They launched a dispute mechanism that could lead to reimposition of U.N. sanctions lifted after the agreement to limit Tehran's atomic activities was signed.
Polish President Andrzej Dud turned down an invitation to the conference, expressing dissatisfaction that representatives of Russia, France, Britain, the United States and Germany would speak, while Poland was told it would not be able to.
Israeli organisers said only the four World War Two allies, and Germany, would address the gathering.
Polish leaders have also been angered by comments made by Putin last month suggesting Poland shared responsibility for the war.
Warsaw will be scrutinising speeches by Putin and Netanyahu, who Israel's Channel 12 TV reported might echo some of the Russian leader's accusations against Poland in return for the pardon of an Israeli woman imprisoned in Russia on drug charges.
"Above all, we are asking that the memory of the Holocaust, that terrible crime, the memory of its victims, is not exploited for political reasons," Poland's deputy foreign minister, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk, said on Tuesday. That would be vile."