Israel’s Polish friends

Poland’s assumption of the EU presidency in July is the perfect window of opportunity for strengthening Israeli-Polish relations.

By PHILIP BOYES
March 22, 2011 22:38
3 minute read.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Netanyahu.

donald tusk and netanyahu_311. (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO)

These are again tense times for Israel: The jury is still out on the implications of the Arab revolutions. Israel should seize the moment and make sure it doesn’t lose out in the inevitable European love-fest with the Arab world. There is trouble brewing. Latin American countries are queuing up to unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, and left-leaning European countries could follow.

Now is the time for Israel to tighten its network of European friends, and where better to start than Poland – an emerging European Union power and key NATO player.

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The EU is getting the story wrong on Israel. The Jewish state should use Poland to win back the narrative and improve its standing.

The Arab world is in turmoil, but the EU is also undergoing a transition.

It is in Israel’s interest to be at the heart of these changes. Poland’s assumption of the EU presidency in July is the perfect window of opportunity.

If Israel fails to take advantage of this chance, it risks sliding further off the strategic map.

AS THE Polish-Israeli joint cabinet meeting in February reminded us, relations between the two countries are at their highest since diplomatic ties were reactivated 21 years ago.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk was accompanied on his three-day visit by an impressive entourage. It has become clear that Poland wants not only to deepen military cooperation, but also to work together on education, health, the environment and other issues. Israel should take this seriously.

Until now, Poland reserved such high-level meetings for the likes of Germany and France – the two other members of the Weimar Triangle. It was Germany and France – former enemies – who kicked-off the tradition of joint cabinet meetings. What has since developed is an institutional bond which provides increased leverage in the EU.

The joint cabinet meeting between Poland and Israel was therefore a good starting point, but both countries should be pushing toward a proper axis. The timing is right: Poland’s current political leadership, as well as its main opposition party, are strong supporters of Israel. Both Tusk and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski have spoken – and acted – in defense of the Jewish state within various international forums.

In the UN, Poland voted against the Goldstone Commission report.

It also boycotted the Durban Conference in 2009, and refused to attend Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s UN address. In the prime minister’s special adviser Wladyslaw Bartoszewski – also present at the Polish-Israeli cabinet meeting – Israel has a partner honored as a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem for helping save many Jews during the war.

Poland understands Israel and shares a common language when it comes to security. Polish history – like that of Israel – is in great part a story of suffering and sacrifice. Over the centuries the Polish state – rather than people – has often been on the verge of annihilation.

Poland also understands the importance of solidarity and secure borders , the price of freedom and democracy.

Poland will soon play a key role in Europe, and could help get this message across to a chorus of Israel-sceptics in the EU. By reaching out to Poland, Israel could add a vital tool to its hasbara tool kit. Israel should also make sure that Poland puts the threat of Iran’s nuclear program high on the EU’s priority list.

IN MANY ways, a Polish-Israeli alliance is a natural one. Polish and Jewish history is interwoven and spans 1,000 years, for better and worse. The courage of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters formed the foundation of the State of Israel. Had February’s joint cabinet meeting taken place in the late 1940s, no translators would have been needed – the working language would have been Polish.

Take the 175 Egged bus from Tel Aviv’s Reading bus terminal to Rishon Lezion and you realize the interlinked nature of Polish-Israeli political DNA. The bus stops at Ben-Gurion and Begin before making its way to Anielewicz and Zalman Shneur – all famous sons of Poland. Closer relations with Poland is not a betrayal of these great men, it is sensible realpolitik.

The writer, a Polish citizen, is a speechwriter for a leading EU politician.


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