BDS and the Polish Holocaust law: A lesson in EU inconsistency

Say what you like about the Polish government (and believe me I have), but at least it has had the good grace to consult and seek to repair the damage.

March 1, 2018 22:00
3 minute read.
POLAND’S PRIME Minister Mateusz Morawiecki

POLAND’S PRIME Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. (photo credit: REUTERS/MICHAELA REHLE)


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A Polish delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki is in Israel, to attempt to reach an understanding regarding the wording of the controversial Polish Holocaust Law that has sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

The delegation met with a team headed by the director-general of the Foreign Ministry on Thursday.

Both teams are composed of notable historians, journalists, jurists and legislators.

The Foreign Ministry said that “the goal of the dialogue is to preserve the historical truth and prevent harm to the freedom of research and expression.”

The law, which imposes jail terms for suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, was set to take effect on Thursday, but Warsaw has announced that it will not be enforced until the matter is smoothed out with Israel, which described the legislation as a Polish attempt to shirk responsibility for the country’s role in the Nazis’ program to exterminate the Jews.

Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, Omar Barghouti, the leader of the BDS movement, gave a talk in the European Parliament, having been invited to do so by Anna Gomes, a Portuguese Socialist MEP (readers should note that the socialist group distanced itself from the event and asked for its logo to be removed from any materials related to it.) What links these events? Not much seemingly on the surface. But let’s analyze this a bit deeper.

A team from Poland came to Israel to discuss the import of legislation affecting Jews in Europe and ultimately events that took place before the creation of the State of Israel.

Let’s extrapolate that further. An extremely sensitive subject related to Jewish affairs in an EU member state is being discussed directly with the Israeli state apparatus.

But Mr. Barghouti, and the BDS movement activities he oversees – which directly affect the State of Israel, and therefore the vast majority of Jews in Europe – is given free rein to address the only EU institution elected by universal suffrage.

According to the EU, “it stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which also includes actions carried out... of the so-called BDS movement.”

Again, let’s extrapolate. So, issues that primarily affect Jews in Europe can and indeed should be discussed with the State of Israel in a diplomatic context.

But issues such as Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions that directly relate to Israel as a sovereign state, and by proxy, the vast majority of Jews in Europe, are not deemed worthy of consultation, but instead are granted special status under freedom of expression? Are we missing something or is this a blatant double standard? Antisemitism can constitute one thing but not another? Who decides? What is the criterion? This, dear reader, is the fundamental problem with the EU approach to the BDS movement, and regrettably, it takes a horrible piece of legislation such as the Holocaust law to expose this huge inconsistency in approach.

Say what you like about the Polish government (and believe me I have), but at least it has had the good grace to consult and seek to repair the damage.

This stands in stark contrast to the EU that gives a platform in one of its institutions to someone who has besmirched the Jewish faith as justifying massacres and genocide, denies that pogroms took place in Arab countries, rejects the twostate solution, and says that any Palestinian who accepts a Jewish state is a “sell-out.” These views are vile. Every bit as vile as what Poland was suggesting.

But it’s freedom of expression. Get it? No? Me neither.

The writer is the director of Public Affairs for the European Jewish Association, a Brussels-based NGO that represents and acts on behalf of Jewish communities across the EU and the wider European continent, at the heart of the European institutions and at bilateral level with member states.

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