Somewhere on our list of problems are the Poles. Also Hungarians and other European nationalists, concerned mostly about Muslim refugees but also expressing some of their historic enmity for us.

The most recent excitement has focused on a law enacted by the Polish parliament, which initially threatened criminal action against anyone expressing that Poles cooperated with the Nazis.

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That produced a storm from Israelis and other Jews with family experience or other knowledge about the slaughter of Jews at the hands of Poles during and after World War II. Israel and other governments pressured the Poles, and now the law has been revised to remove the threat of criminal charges against anyone threatening Polish sensitivities. The possibility of civil court action remains, and that—along with other expressions about Polish history by Polish politicians--has excited another round of dispute among those who know or experienced the enmity and violence of Poles and others.


We’ve heard what we already knew about the rapacious action of some Poles and others, and the actions of some Poles and others to save Jews from the Germans and others who would do them harm.

Experts have been active in ranking the various European tribes as to who were worse. It’s not only the Poles, but also Ukranians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Croatians, French, Dutch, Belgians, and of course, Germans.

While Germans must take first place in any assessment of the Holocaust, the post-war German government has been far above those of other countries that cooperated with the Nazis with respect to paying reparations, reforming its education, aiding Israel, and welcoming Jews from elsewhere into its population.

The British are outside of Europe and beyond this effort to rank the bastards. However, we’re all aware of polite antisemitism expressed by Her Majesty’s subjects, as well as the Nazi sympathies of Elizabeth’s uncle.

One can go back to the 12th century to find a memorable pogrom in York, and then for about 400 years no Jews were allowed in the Kingdom.

There are individual saints, or righteous Gentiles, in all of the tribes that recently have slaughtered Jews, or turned them over for someone else to slaughter, and/or plundered the possessions of the Jews.

All of the above also has occurred among the Palestinians. Palestinians in Hebron during 1929, and in Isaweea more recently, who protected Jews while other Palestinians were killing or trying to kill Jews.

It’s a mixed story, and it’s a difficult and frustrating task to rank nations as to which have a higher incidence of killers and the righteous when it comes to Jews during various incidents of tribal bloodletting.

We can also quarrel, or express indifference about the political accommodations between Israel and the present governments across Europe and the Middle East.

Nobody has clean hands in these games.

It’s the task of historians, as well as the present generation of families that have suffered and/or been protected, to express their conclusions about their view of a murky history. Alongside of them, it’s the task of the Israeli government to look after the current and near future of the state and its population. That may mean going along with overseas politicians, who have their own problems in dealing with their voters.

Israel has diplomatic relations across Europe and Asia, and at a different level of openness with numerous countries of the Middle East with their own record of nastiness toward Jews. Israeli officials are rightly concerned to facilitate continued cooperation that produces opportunities for commerce, industry, investment, and tourism, as well as cooperation on matters of security and the sharing of intelligence about threats. In some cases, the details may be out of sync with the preferences of some Israelis, overseas Jews, and government officials in the United States and elsewhere.

A Knesset Member in the left wing of Labor, who often criticizes the government for its failure to reach out to Palestinians, has come close to accusing Prime Minister Netanyahu of being a traitor to Jewish interests on account of his accommodation with the Polish government's legislation. Yad Vashem issued a statement calling Israel’s concession a sin against history.

Enough Jews have expressed themselves about the evil of the Poles to assure that their story will survive, no matter what the Poles or their government declare.

Balance, of course, is an elusive issue when arguing about who did what 70 or more years ago.

We’re also at a high level of tension with our American cousins. Many of them are unhappy with the opportunities provided here for Jews who are religious but not Orthodox. Many of those, as well as others, seem to think that the Israeli government is extremist in its treatment of Palestinians and openness to a deal. And there are some who ridicule the capacity of Israel to get along with governments associated with a history of evil Europeans.

On the religious issues with non-Orthodox Jews, my guess is that most Israelis are indifferent, while those concerned about the dispute are more likely to side with the Orthodox.

Whether the Jews are one people with equal rights in Israel is at the same level of murkiness as which of the European tribes were more protective or hostile to Jews. Both issues generate more heat than light.

Many Jews like to think of ourselves as one people, but historic divisions have created our own internal tribalisms. And we’ve been arguing details of religious ritual and appropriate leadership since the rebellion of Korah and Ezra’s concern with intermarriage.

Surveys of Israeli Jews show that almost all circumcise their sons at the appropriate time after birth. A large percentage, but smaller than those circumcised, celebrate a Bar Mitzvah. Large majorities have a religious burial, partly because it is easiest to arrange and without cost, except for a grave stone. A smaller percentage, but still likely to be a majority, have a religious wedding. Large majorities celebrate a Passover Seder, and see Friday evening as a time for a festive meal with family. A lesser number, but still a majority, claim to fast on Yom Kippur. Most do not keep all the rules about Shabbat or Kashrut, visit a synagogue, or pray on a regular basis.

One can assume that a large majority of Israeli Jews marry Jews, but not all may be viewed as such by the Rabbinate. Some—perhaps many—who are viewed as Jews by the Rabbinate and could marry in the conventional manner choose to avoid the Rabbinate, marry elsewhere via a civil ceremony (not available in Israel), and register themselves as married with Israel’s Interior Ministry.

All who make use of Israeli media are exposed to a rich menu of information,  commentary, and dispute about Jewish history, theology, and ritual detail, and can do more than hold their own with Americans who attend a Temple or synagogue on a regular basis.

From the time when there were Jews, the people lived alongside and mingled with others. Most of the time there was some degree of accommodation, but there were also peaks of enmity and violence. It was usually the Jews who suffered, reflecting their numbers, but not exclusively so. The Holocaust was the worst of it. Currently, Israel is at a historic height of Jewish wealth, power, and accomplishment. But it is not without conflict with those non-Jews living among and alongside, as well as among ourselves and with other Jews.

So what else is new?

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