VIEWPOINT: Poles apart

The Poles are obviously correct that the Germans and not the Poles perpetrated the Holocaust and therefore the term Polish death camps is a misnomer.

A FLAG and flowers are left at a monument in Warsaw, Poland that commemorates the uprising in the city’s Jewish ghetto in 1944. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A FLAG and flowers are left at a monument in Warsaw, Poland that commemorates the uprising in the city’s Jewish ghetto in 1944.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
THE CURRENT acrimony between Israel and Poland over a law passed by the Sejm criminalizing assertions that Poland bears some responsibility for the Holocaust aggravated by the frenetic attempts of senior Polish officials to somehow rationalize the law has compelled me to rethink my positions. I have long favored testing expanded ties between Israel and European sovereignists, who oppose a federal Europe run from Brussels and maintain their belief in the nation state. The Polish case appears to strengthen the argument of those who warned of the ultimate futility of such attempts because such parties particularly those with antisemitic antecedents are deemed incorrigible. Knesset member Tamar Zandberg of Meretz disparaged nationalist Knesset members as friends of Nazis because like myself they wanted to extend the benefit of the doubt to populist parties in Europe.
It is all too easy to answer Zandberg in kind and point to her Holocaust denying friends in Ramallah, who refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state (at best they are prepared to recognize a fictional “Israeli people”). But I understand why she and her colleagues desperately cling to the hope of an eventual Palestinian partner ,as they regard the annexationist alternative as the worst possible outcome.
Necessity also promoted the need to consider ties with Europe’s nationalist parties. Had EU policies been more considerate of Israel’s position, had its members stifled antisemitism and done a better job of defending Europe against forces inimical to its core values, we may not have had to consider this option. Moreover, it was the last failing that fostered the rise of populist parties in the first place.
The European Union has generally been passive or hostile to Israel in the face of international resolutions denying any Jewish connection with Jerusalem.
The European Union is very good about commemorating dead Jewish Holocaust victims but will not jeopardize its trade with Iran a country that advocates wiping Israel off the map and takes active measures to do so. Europe’s moralistic foreign policy was notably absent during the recent demonstrations in Iran save for mealy mouthed calls for restraint.
Europe has adopted a highly selective attitude to Israel’s civil society lavishing funds predominantly on anti-Israel NGOs. It thus creating a vicious cycle where the European governments who funded these bodies embrace their one-sided findings to justify the original funding. Israel finds itself treated like a banana republic.
If that was how the European establishment intended to play, it was natural to expect Israeli nationalists to respond by seeking relations with both Euroskeptic parties in Western Europe and with Eastern European countries. The latter, after years as Soviet satellites, were happy to reclaim their national sovereignty and were zealous about protecting it against European federalist encroachment. To cite the American Interest’s editor Damir Marusic, “The discomfiting truth is that some amount of ethnic nationalism is not just tolerated, but accepted as completely legitimate by many voters throughout Eastern Europe.” Most Israelis similarly believe that Israel’s identity as a Jewish state is completely legitimate.
Therefore, relations with nationalist parties could be seen not only as a marriage of convenience but as convergence. A decadent and secularized Europe had exposed itself to a hostile takeover by a confident and assertive Islam. Poland, which had displayed resistance to Communism via a combination of Catholicism and nationalism, and other East European countries could possibly reinvigorate Europe in the face of the new threat.
Perhaps this was wishful thinking and even an attempt to project the American experience, where nationalism and religiosity are currently a barometer of pro-Israeli attitudes, onto Europe.
STILL THE same way that Zandberg will not give up on the Palestinians, I still refuse to give up on Eastern Europe, provided red lines are maintained. Reconciliation cannot be secured by historical distortion and an amended law must permit Israel and its historians to discuss and reveal atrocities committed by individual Poles or occasionally by the Polish Home Army units against Jews. My daughter-in-law’s family originally came to Britain from Jedwabne, whose Jews were burnt to death by their Polish neighbors. The prewar boycott movement against Jews promoted by the National Democratic Party and supported by Poland’s primate Cardinal Hlond must be confronted in any discussion, as should the viciousness, including murder, exhibited to the survivors who attempted to return to their former homes in Poland, even to just reclaim some of their belongings.
The Israeli side must also display more precision in the debate.
The Poles are obviously correct that the Germans and not the Poles perpetrated the Holocaust and therefore the term Polish death camps is a misnomer. In light of this, it is anomalous that Israel has been more forgiving of the Germans than the Poles. The new Germany of Konrad Adenhauer was honeycombed with senior civil servants who had served under the Third Reich. For a long time, the Federal Republic maintained the convenient fictional distinction between bad Nazis as opposed to the honorable Wehrmacht. It is not only Germany. The Lithuanians, Croats and Ukrainians surpassed the Poles in cruelty to Jews during the Holocaust. In Hungary, Jews in Budapest were cast into the Danube. And yet a special animus is reserved for Poland. It would help relations if we could explain to ourselves and to the Poles why this is the case. Is it simply the sheer volume of Polish Jewish victims or is there something more?.
Regardless of how this plays out, it is time to admit that the Holocaust carries decreasing resonance outside the Jewish community.
If there is any value to making Yad Vashem an obligatory stop on a foreign dignitary’s itinerary it is not for the purpose of convincing him that the world owes a moral obligation to the Jewish people. It is to impress upon him that the Jewish State will take whatever action is necessary and use all means at its disposal to prevent a second Holocaust.