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During his recent visit to Lithuania, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu laid a wreath at a memorial to 70,000 Jews massacred by the Nazis and their collaborators. This tiny corner of the former Soviet Union holds a particular significance for Netanyahu: He has family roots in Lithuania. It made sense that he would pick the country, a staunch ally of Israel, as the site of a Baltic summit that also included the leaders of Estonia and Latvia.
Yet his presence in the former East bloc is more a reflection of a shifting political world than a tribute to the past. Netanyahu has been busy building ties with a region increasingly at odds with the European mainstream. With anti-Semitism on the march in Poland and Hungary, it might look like an unlikely alliance. But the axis of nationalist dissent that’s split Europe over support for Donald Trump’s presidency, taking in Muslim refugees, and negotiating with Iran presents an opportunity for him. “Israel’s interest is to break up European unity on Israel-related issues,” says Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and a deputy minister in Netanyahu’s office. “To me, the less united Europe is, the better. I’m optimistic about that. A united Europe hasn’t been a blessing for this country…”
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