Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in the snow.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
We can presume that there were only a few relevant players exerting pressure on Israel and Poland seeking to reconcile the two countries, that are caught up in an impasse over legislation referred to as “the Polish death camps bill.” These figures were squashed between two fires that weren’t about to extinguish anytime soon, if at all. Most of those seeking reconciliation were set up for disappointment and found themselves back to square one. The reason? “It’s too sensitive”
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid kept the flame alive with his tweets, that gave no space for talks whatsoever. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, chairman of Bayit Yehudi, took a somewhat softer stance, but couldn’t make it to Poland as he wasn’t approved by one of the most influential Jews in Poland, Jonny Daniels.
In Daniels’ defense, he sought to restore relations and felt Bennett would be a liability rather than an asset. However, there was nothing replacing this canceled visit and instead talks are currently being held by politicians of lower rank, and behind closed doors, almost secretively.
In the meantime, MKs held a debate in the Knesset resulting in a tight consensus the like of which has never been seen before: the whole spectrum, from Right to Left, including the Joint List, rejected the Polish bill and labeled it nothing less than “Holocaust denial.” MK Dov Henin from the Joint List jumped on the opportunity to call on all Israeli politicians to cut ties with what he calls “fascists countries,” which also happen to be the states that support Israel at the UN. How convenient.
Making matters worse, as a response, the Poles proceeded with another controversial bill, the anti-kosher slaughter bill, shutting the door completely on any chance for any MK to soften.
In addition, reducing chances to restore relations even further, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talked about Jewish perpetrators alongside Polish perpetrators in his statement probably – or better said hopefully – alluding to the Jews assisting the Nazis in camps. The fact that these Jews were forced to do so if they wanted to stay alive was completely omitted.
Having said that, it’s fitting to mention that historians on both sides agree on 95% of what really went down during the Holocaust on Polish soil. Therefore, the current strained relations could have been avoided, had the Polish ruling party consulted with Israelis or Jewish organizations on how to carefully choose its wording in order to satisfy both parties.
In all of the shout-outs against the Polish move for what many consider antisemitism, we should also keep in mind Poland’s abstention on the UN resolution against US President Donald Trump’s declaration, indirectly supporting Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and directly defying EU’s stance. Moreover, Polish MEPs from the ruling PiS Party were very much supportive of Israel when questions around labeling and other possible sanctions were raised against Israel at the EU.
Courageously, Israelis didn’t take that under consideration. It is fair to say that the Likud, although agreeing with all other parties, weren’t the ones that kept polarizing. Netanyahu understands Poland’s situation all too well. Poland is attempting to reach out for foreign support while the EU threatens it with sanctions, with activating Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union. This makes Poland an asset for Israel, which seeks to defy the EU’s position regarding Israeli policies. Poland was one of the six EU countries to abstain on the anti-Trump resolution. No matter the circumstances, this deserves to be considered.
Although Israel did the right thing by demanding Poland stay truthful to historical facts, Israelis need to understand that the EU states that are not passing any Holocaust laws are also the countries pressuring Israel to go back to ‘67 lines and completely reject the Jerusalem declaration. After Prime Minister Morawiecki’s clarifications of his reckless statements, Israeli politicians need to be careful and pragmatic and need to try to find a way to combine preserving the truth through pressure, debate, negotiations and keeping (potential) allies friendly.The author is a director at Golden Gate public affairs & consultancy, and works at European Parliament in Brussels.