Bennett on Poland: We cannot allow anyone to revise history

"We need to face the reality that they were a victim, but that not a small number [of Poles] were involved in antisemitism.”

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February 18, 2019 15:55
4 minute read.
Minister of Education Naftali Bennet with Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz

Minister of Education Naftali Bennet with Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Feb. 18, 2019.. (photo credit: YANIR COZIN / MAARIV)

 
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New Right leader and cabinet minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that he would reject all peace plans, including that of US President Donald Trump, if they involve handing over even “one centimeter of the Land of Israel.”
 
Bennett also spoke out against efforts to obscure the fact that significant numbers of Polish citizens aided the Nazis in their efforts to round up and murder Jews, insisting that Poles did participate in “antisemitism and murdering Jews.”
 
In a wide ranging discussion with The Jerusalem Post’s editor-in-chief, Yaakov Katz, at the 45th Israel mission of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Bennett also discussed Israel-Diaspora relations in the Trump era and the possibilities for the next government coalition after the coming elections in April.
 
“Trump is a huge friend of Israel,” Bennett said in reference to the peace plan which the Trump administration is working on and is expected to unveil sometime after the election. But Bennett added firmly that he and the New Right Party could not accept any agreement that trades land for peace.
 
“I oppose handing over one centimeter of the Land of Israel to the Arabs,” declared Bennett. “The New Right will not be joining any government predicated on creating a Palestinian state west of the Jordan. It would destroy the future of Israel, and the future of my children and of millions of children in Israel.”
 
Bennett argued that even a demilitarized Palestinian state would have sovereign powers and that millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from 1948 would enter the new country, which he said would “in one fell swoop wipe out the demographic advantage we’ve achieved over the last 140 years.”
 
The minister also addressed the recent controversy surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments regarding the collaboration of Polish citizens with the Nazis during the Holocaust and a subsequent potential cancellation of the Polish prime minister’s visit to Israel this week.
 
Collaboration with the Nazis has become a neuralgic issue for Poland, with the country passing and subsequently amending a law in 2018 to criminalize claims that the Polish nation or state was responsible for the Holocaust.
 
Bennett was implicitly critical of the cancellation of the Polish prime minister’s visit, saying that although Poland and Israel are good friends, the relationship cannot be built on “erasing the past.”
 
“Many Poles did participate in antisemitism and murdering Jews,” Bennett said. “We cannot allow anyone to revise history for sake of the future, that’s not the way to build a relationship. We need to face the reality that they were a victim, but that not a small number [of Poles] were involved in antisemitism.”
 
He added, however, that “there were Poles who were different and went out of their way to save Jews” and that “the Polish nation was a victim of Nazi Germany under severe harsh occupation.”
 
Bennett also pointed out the personal history of his own family and how his wife’s grandmother and two siblings were murdered by Poles.
 
“My wife’s grandfather lived in Poland, and for four years together with his mother and two siblings hid in the forest. He would go out to find work and bring back food to them in hiding,” related Bennett. “One day, just a little while before the Russians arrived, some young Poles came up to him laughing and said, ‘We killed your family.’ He ran back to their hiding place to find his mother and two siblings dead. This is a fact. You cannot change this.”
 
He also addressed the joint statement issued in 2018 by the Polish and Israeli governments after the crisis over the Polish Holocaust law, a statement which was criticized as whitewashing Polish involvement in crimes against its Jewish population.
 
“I think that part of the basis of the statement we wrong,” said Bennett. “This was a formal joint statement by the Israeli and Polish governments, and I was against it at the time. We appreciate greatly the friendship between Poland and Israel in 2019, but we cannot allow anyone, anywhere, to rewrite the history. I think we must face reality, they were victims, but there were also those that took part in antisemitism, this is the truth.”
 
Turning to Israeli politics, he said that he believed that Netanyahu would be the next prime minister, and that the question of the elections was whether or not Netanyahu would form a government with “the Left” and Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party, or “the Right” and the New Right Party.
 
Bennett said that Netanyahu traditionally has sought out “left-wing partners” such as Ehud Barak and Labor in 2009 and Tzipi Livni and her Hatnua party in 2013, and that a vote for New Right was therefore a vote for a right-wing coalition.
 
He described Gantz as “a good guy” and “a mentsch” (Yiddish for a good person), but insisted he was politically left-wing and said he should not try and hide it.

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