Israel should say ‘No’ to Europe’s extreme Right

For far too long, the right-wing parties in Israel have flirted with the neo-Nazi and antisemitic elements in Europe.

February 1, 2018 21:29
4 minute read.
SURVIVORS AND guests light candles at the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz

SURVIVORS AND guests light candles at the former Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz II-Birkenau in Poland last Saturday, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.. (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)

Two hundred thousand Jews were betrayed and murdered by Poles during the Holocaust. This estimation belongs to Prof. Jan Grabowski, the author of the chilling book Orgy of Death that was published in Poland in 2011.

Grabowski, a well-established and revered historian, admits this estimate is very conservative and that the number could be dramatically higher. He wrote a extensive research on involvement of Poles in the Holocaust; was vilified by the local media; sued the publication; and won the case (Haaretz February 11, 2017). Here is a quote cited in the book from a diary that belonged to Stanislav Jeminsky, a teacher from the city of Lukov who died in Majidanek concentration camp in 1943:

“Orgies of death were organized not only by Germans and their aides – Ukrainians and Lithuanians. It was clear that our dear policemen (the Poles) will participate in the slaughter. But the situation was even more tragic. It came out that the ordinary Poles, volunteers, were acting along with them... they (the farmers) took the Jews out of the houses, looked for them in the fields. The shots were still heard in the air, and they already rushed to check out their property. The bodies of the Jews were still warm, and they already wrote petitions to get their houses, business, workshops and lands. They volunteered to participate in this hunt, without being forced to do it.”

Grabowski was vilified for this important research, as many in Poland believed that he was tarnishing Poland’s image and washing his country’s dirty laundry in public. The right-wing Law and Justice Party promised to put an end to all that.

And now comes the law. “Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation or the Polish state of being responsible or complicit in Nazi crimes or other crimes against peace and humanity or war crimes, should be subject to a fine, or a penalty of imprisonment for up to three years.”

What does it mean to accuse the Polish nation? Were hundreds of thousands of Polish murderers and accomplices part of the Polish nation or not? When an individual does something outstanding – such as winning a Nobel Prize or inventing a life-saving medicine – that person usually receives nation-wide honor and the whole nation takes pride, even if the state never supported, encouraged or sponsored the individual. And if hundreds of thousands of individuals commit horrific crimes – crimes that are being encouraged by a significant national institution such as the Catholic Church, for example – can these individuals be considered to be a part of a nation? I believe the answer is clear.

NOT ONLY Poland tries to distance itself from the Nazi crimes. Hungary and Croatia are whitewashing the histories of their respective governments that collaborated with the Nazis. Ukraine, in its quest for national heroes, celebrates Stepan Bandera and armed militias that took part in the extermination of Jews during the Holocaust. In Lithuania, dozens recently marched near the site where 170 Jews were executed, with banners of “Pepe the Frog,” a symbol popular with extreme-right and antisemitic movements in the US. In many countries the names of collaborators still remain a dirty secret, closely kept by the government, while their right-wing leaders try to distance themselves from the unwanted past.

How should Israel react to these attempts to rewrite history? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once said the world understands strength and power. Well, this is exactly the moment to stand firm and oppose these attempts, to denounce them without fear, for the Jewish nation experienced enough fear in its long history. The Jewish state is obliged to protect the historical truth, to battle the glorification of the murderers, to cry out loud: “Never again.”

It’s unthinkable that some of those who deny the Holocaust, the leaders and the activists of distinctively antisemitic, sometimes even neo-Nazi movements, visit the Jewish state. They enter the country that was created from the ashes of the Holocaust and are welcomed here by some politicians with extremely short historical memories.

In 2011, the Belgian far-right leader Filip Dewinter – the former head of the Vlaams Belang Party, whose members openly deny the Holocaust and glorify the Nazis, was welcomed in Israel by Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis. In 2016, Heinz-Christian Strache, now vice chancellor of Austria, whose Freedom Party mourns the fall of the Third Reich while countries around the world celebrate victory over the Nazi Germany, was invited to Israel by Likud MKs.

When Israel allows such visits, it helps the neo-Nazis and the antisemites around the globe to promote hate, violence and racism. Last week, when the whole world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I submitted a bill that will prevent visits in our country of those who preach hatred against the Jews and adore Adolf Hitler.

For far too long, the right-wing parties in Israel have flirted with the neo-Nazi and antisemitic elements in Europe. It’s time to present a new policy in this regard. Parties and movements that deny or justify the Holocaust – and leaders who preach hatred toward Jews, Muslims or any other group, whether in their countries or abroad – are not our friends. And they will never be.

The writer is an associate professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a policy fellow at the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and a member of Knesset for the Zionist Union.

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