On February 22, Poland will mark the centenary of the birth of Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a noble, Warsaw-born Polish politician, social activist, journalist, writer, historian, Auschwitz inmate, resistance fighter, and friend to and champion of the Jewish people during and after the Holocaust.
Most Israelis have never heard of Bartoszewski, a Catholic who was persecuted not only by the Germans but also by his own Polish people. Yet despite persecution, defamation and prison, his spirit remained strong, and after the fall of Communism in Poland, he twice served as his country’s foreign minister.
During the present tense atmosphere between Poland and Israel, it is important for Israelis and Jews in general to learn about Bartoszewski, because we are so used to hearing about Polish antisemitism and Polish collaboration with the Nazis. Yes, there are antisemitic Poles, and there were some Poles who were collaborators, but there was also a strong Polish resistance force in which Bartoszewski played a role. He helped the fighters of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and later he himself fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
In 1963, he spent two months in Israel at the invitation of Yad Vashem and was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
He was involved in so many human rights, political and Holocaust remembrance movements, organizations and international conferences that it is almost impossible to comprehend how one person was capable of doing so much.
In 2008, when then-president Shimon Peres visited Poland to participate in the 65th anniversary commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Bartoszewski, when speaking to Israeli journalists, jokingly referred to himself as “the Polish Shimon Peres.”
During that visit, Peres also met Marek Edelman, the last survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, who died a year later. Bartoszewski died in April 2015.
Now, there is a move afoot to establish a Wladyslaw Bartoszewski Square in Warsaw, the city of his birth and of his final resting place. There is already a Bartoszewski Square in Gdansk, but colleagues and admirers of Bartoszewski feel that there should also be one in Warsaw, and began lobbying for the possibility a year after his death.
According to Mariusz Malinowski, one of the members of the committee organizing the inauguration of the square and activities associated with it, the idea was born a year after Bartoszewski’s death, as the power of the Law and Justice Party in Poland was increasing, and the limits of decency were being trampled.
Because Bartoszewski had been a symbol of human decency, it was decided that the square bearing his name should be on the site of the former Biala Street, which houses the courts building and which during the Second World War was framed by a 3-meter-high wall which separated it from the Warsaw Ghetto. However, Jews could enter the courts through a side entrance in Leszno Street, which was inside the ghetto, and receive clothing and false papers from organizations that were aiding Jews, including Zagota, in whose activities Bartoszewski participated.
■ IT DOESN’T take much to figure out that the most talked-about topic in Israel these days is the police and Pegasus spyware, and whose phones got hacked. If the list of public figures who’ve been hacked grows much longer, in the perverse mindset of many Israelis it will become a status symbol.
In fact, it almost has. At the annual Jerusalem Conference hosted by the BeSheva Group of media outlets, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion was asked in jest by journalist Kobi Finkler whether his phone had been hacked by police, and when Lion replied in the negative, Finkler asked whether he wasn’t insulted.
■ DIRECTLY OR indirectly, Pegasus kept cropping up like the winged horse for which it’s named, at one session after another at the Jerusalem Conference.
Beyond that, it was particularly interesting to witness how Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, rabbi of Safed, who was interviewed by BeSheva Group chairman Dudu Saada, and Rabbi Rafi Feuerstein, one of the prominent Tzohar rabbis, who was interviewed by BeSheva Editor-in-Chief Emanuel Shilo, though in total disagreement with each other over the new kashrut and conversion rules promoted by Religious Services Minister Matan Kahana, were totally respectful and even admiring of each other. Neither saw anything unusual about this.
Eliyahu said that even though he believes in the democratic process, he cannot accept, as Jewish, a convert in whose conversion he does not believe. Nor was he prepared, as the rabbi of Safed, to give kashrut certification to enterprises in Netanya, because he’s not familiar with them.
Feuerstein believes that Tzohar set the stage for Kahana’s concept of kashrut approval and certification. Tzohar does not deal with conversion, he said, but it does support Kahana’s stance, including the conversion of minors, which not so long ago was taboo.
Even though conversion is not on Tzohar’s agenda, Feuerstein is concerned that particularly among immigrants from the former Soviet Union, there are young people who either came to Israel as children or were born in Israel, grew up as Israelis in the Jewish state, believing themselves to be Jewish – even having a bar mitzvah, then serving in the army, and discovering, when they want to get married, that they’re not Jewish.
He does not want to see the continuation of such a situation and conversions that were not approved by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to be revoked. There are halachic rules for legitimate conversions, he said, and so long as an Orthodox rabbi abides by them, the conversion is legitimate.
Feuerstein acknowledged that there have always been disputes over conversion, even with regard to people converted by former chief rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Shlomo Goren, and more recently by rabbis Yisrael Rosen and Haim Druckman. It would be a travesty, he said, if all their conversions were annulled.
■ ANOTHER ISSUE that was aired at the Jerusalem Conference was whether Army Radio should be closed down or transferred out of the army and transformed into a commercial broadcasting enterprise.
The discussion, led by Shilo, included former IDF spokesman and a former Army Radio commander Avi Benayahu, Nurit Dabush, former chairwoman of the Second Authority for Television & Radio, Ziv Maor, a lawyer who chairs the Association for the Public’s Right to Know, and prizewinning Channel 12 religious affairs reporter Yair Sherki, whose career in journalism was launched at Army Radio.
The main focus of the discussion was that despite the fact that Defense Minister Benny Gantz had announced some six months ago that he was acceding to the request of Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi to close down Army Radio, nothing had been done to implement this decision, just as nothing had been done in previous years by defense ministers and chiefs of staff, who had also wanted to do away with Army Radio, which long ago stopped serving any military purpose. The prime objection was that it had become politicized, with the commander of the station serving the interests of whatever political administration was in power.
Benayahu objected, saying that he had never received instructions from any government official, though the chief of staff had occasionally tried to interfere, and that Benayahu had consistently ignored his orders.Benayahu also made the point that the defense minister does not have the authority to close down Army Radio, whose status is enshrined in the Broadcasting Authority Law. Shilo argued that it wasn’t.
The discussion inevitably moved to the current sensational national scandal of police abuse of Pegasus spyware to amass information about numerous public figures and their families as well as their other contacts, and Shilo asked whether it was legitimate for journalists to engage in similar activity. He cited the case of disgraced former all-powerful head of the Israel Bar Association Efi Nave, whose previous cellphone came into the hands of Army Radio journalist Hadas Shtaif, who had it hacked, and was sufficiently shocked by its contents to hand it on to police, who launched the investigation that led to Nave’s fall from grace and being put on trial.
Sherki said that at Army Radio, if you came with a good story, no one asked how you got it. Dabush said that investigative reporting is the role of journalism. (In the interim, journalists are worried that their sources may have been disclosed, because it is not yet known whether police hacked into journalists’ phones, and if so, which journalists.)
The consensus of the discussion was that Army Radio should not be closed, but should undergo certain changes. Benayahu is in favor of maintaining its current status, but removing its political content, and Dabush declared that in a democracy, no radio station should be closed down, but was adamant that Army Radio should move into the competitive civilian orbit and become a commercial station.
■ ONE LAST word about the Jerusalem Conference. Interviewees included Yiftah Ron-Tal, the former longtime chairman of the board of directors of the Israel Electric Corporation, who stated that there was no justification for a 6% rise in electricity fees. The government should reduce taxes on electricity and subsidize the cost of electricity, he said.
■ AMONG THE various representatives of organizations and institutions that feel the need to meet with President Isaac Herzog was the senior team of the Israel Scholarship Education Foundation, which works to promote excellence and reduce social disparities in Israel’s society.
Herzog was impressed by the volunteer work of ISEF chairwoman Nina Weiner, who together with Edmond and Lily Safra co-founded ISEF in 1977. Weiner brought with her some photographs of meetings with the president’s father, Chaim Herzog, who had been interested in what ISEF was doing to promote educational excellence in outlying towns and cities.
Since then, many of the young people whom ISEF helped to realize their potential have integrated into mainstream Israel, and hold key positions in various spheres of Israeli society. Among them are: director of Ichilov Hospital Prof. Roni Gamzu; MK Merav Ben-Ari; Prof. Yifat Bitton and Yeroham Mayor Tal Ohana. Very often, recipients of ISEF scholarships are the first members of their respective families to complete high school and go on to earn a university degree.
■ N SUNDAY of this week, Jews and Christians came together on Zoom to pay tribute to the memory of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, on the third anniversary of his death. The event was hosted by Jonathan Feldstein, president of the Genesis 123 Foundation, who was not only a colleague of Eckstein in the work of bridge building between Jews and Christians, but also a close personal friend.
Among those who joined Feldstein in sharing memories of Eckstein were MK Avi Dichter (former public security minister and head of the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency]), whose insightful keynote remarks intertwined his personal relationship with Eckstein and his expertise on issues confronting Israel from security and other perspectives. There were also Eckstein family members, including his widow, Joelle Eckstein, who continues to shine a light on his legacy.
MK Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem, shared some of his recollections of Eckstein, as did Rabbi David Ellenson of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan Nahoum, Robert Nicholson of the Philos Project, Bishop Glenn Plummer of COGIC Israel, and Dr. Pat Robertson of CBN and Regent University.
There’s nobody in the field of Jewish-Christian relations today who doesn’t in some way do so in the shadow of Rabbi Eckstein, said Feldstein. “He set the pace, laying a foundation which often required breaking down some barriers. He is missed as much as his legacy is great.”
■ FOLLOWING PRIME Minister Naftali Bennett’s telephone conversation with US President Joe Biden on Sunday, and the latter’s acceptance of Bennett’s invitation to visit Israel this year, news bulletins on radio and television feverishly rebroadcast the glad tidings for the best part of 24 hours.
When he comes, Biden will be the eighth US president to visit Israel. The first was Richard Nixon, in June 1974. He was followed by Jimmy Carter in March 1979. George H.W. Bush came twice – first in October 1994, and again in November 1995. Bill Clinton also came twice, first in March 1996, and then in December 1998. George W. Bush likewise came twice within a period of a few months, beginning in January 2008, then again in May 2008. Barack Obama came in March 2013, and Donald Trump in May 2017. Most of the above also visited Israel before or after their respective presidential terms.
In November 1995, Clinton, Bush and Carter attended the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, along with a large number of White House and State Department officials, senators governors and mayors.
Likewise, there was a very long list of US dignitaries at the funeral of Peres. Headed by Obama who was still in office, the US delegation included Clinton, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Susan Rice, Frank Lowenstein, Martin Indyk, Stuart Eizenstat and 19 members of Congress.
■ BIDEN IS not the only high-ranking visitor expected in Israel this year. On Wednesday, February 9, Germany’s new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is making her first trip to the Middle East in her present role. It has been categorized as a familiarization trip so that she can get a sense of what is important to each of the countries in terms of bilateral relations. Her first stop will be Israel. Her itinerary includes the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Egypt. Her main focus is Israel, where discussions will also include matters affecting climate change and a joint German-Israel alliance to find ways in which to resolve the problems of climate change.
In Israel, she will meet with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and will visit Yad Vashem, where she will lay a wreath. In the Palestinian Authority she will meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Riad Malki. On Thursday, she will take a late-night flight to Jordan, where she will engage in talks with Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, and will visit the refugee camp that is maintained by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, and is financially supported by funds that come from Germany.
From there she will continue on to Egypt, where she will again engage in talks, this time with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, after which she will return to Berlin.
Next week a delegation from the Philippines headed by Minister José Ruperto Martin M. Andanar from the Presidential Communications Operations Office will arrive on a four-day visit, and dignitaries from other countries, including President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, have indicated that they will visit Israel this year.
■ THERE ARE even some hopes that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be among the visiting dignitaries. Following their initial telephone conversation last November, circumstances in their personal lives have drawn presidents Herzog and Erdogan closer together. The Turkish President, in addition to sending a message of condolence when Herzog’s mother died last month, followed up with a telephone call.
On Sunday of this week, after learning that Erdogan had tested positive for COVID-19, Herzog, who is expected to visit Turkey next month, called Erdogan to inquire about the state of his health and to wish him better.Erdogan has been very public about his invitation to Herzog to visit Ankara.
Herzog’s office has been less forthcoming on the subject, but it is understood that he will take up the invitation, which is largely perceived as an essential icebreaker in the freeze of diplomatic relations between Ankara and Jerusalem. Herzog’s office, in releasing information about the most recent phone call, mentioned that Erdogan had said that he hoped to see Herzog soon. This was tantamount to a confirmation that Herzog will indeed travel to Turkey.
■ WHEN YOU are no longer an ambassador, you don’t have to worry about being politically correct, which is one of the reasons that David Friedman, the former US ambassador to Israel, whose close relationship with US president Donald Trump can to a large extent be credited with moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, has allowed himself to tell tales out of school, so to speak.
In his newly released book, Sledgehammer, in which he reflects on his period as ambassador, Friedman does not spare former president Reuven Rivlin and tells of Rivlin having done something that should not be done.
One was to go behind the ambassador’s back in issuing the invitation to the 75th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz on International Holocaust Remembrance Day to Pelosi, who was speaker of the House of Representatives, and the other was to insult the ruling administration. Pelosi, one of Trump’s most severe critics, is a Democrat to boot, and despite all the bipartisan American goodwill toward Israel, one doesn’t invite someone who is not a member of the administration in power, unless one also invites that person’s opposite number.
Friedman was furious. He had been told that only one person from each country would be able to attend: the president, prime minister or vice president. Pelosi did fit any of those roles. Had Friedman been consulted, things might have worked differently. When he called Rivlin to ask about the secret invitation, which to all intents and purposes was a diplomatic faux pas, he was told that it was none of his business.
He called some senior official in the President’s Residence and said: You beg me to bring vice president Mike Pence as a representative of your most important ally – who did not want to come – but do not have the decency to let me know that behind my back you invited the person responsible for outing Trump? Perhaps the book should be compulsory reading for all 120 members of Knesset. One of them may one day be president of Israel. With the exception of Chaim Weizmann and Ephraim Katzir, all the presidents of Israel were former politicians.
■ ONE OF the most important assets that Israel’s first female Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara brings to her new role is the elimination of the pejorative expression “dumb blonde.” Miara is as blonde as they come, but people who have either worked with her, or who are familiar with her work, have nothing but praise for her intellect and her ability.
While media hype has continued to marvel over the fact that a woman will serve as attorney-general, let’s not forget that Dorit Beinisch, who is also blonde, and who will celebrate her 80th birthday at the end of this month, was Israel’s first woman president of the Supreme Court. Since her appointment in September 2006, there have been two other women presidents – Miriam Naor and present incumbent Esther Hayut. Also in the sphere of law, Nili Arad was the first woman president of the National Labor Court, and the current president, Varda Wirth Livne, is also a woman. Tzipi Livni was the first woman to serve as justice minister. Since then the portfolio has also been held by Ayelet Shaked. Miriam Ben-Porat was the first woman to be a member of the Supreme Court, and following her retirement she was the first woman state comptroller.
Golda Meir was the first and, so far, the only woman prime minister. Dalia Itzik was the first and, so far, the only woman speaker of the Knesset as well as the first female acting president of the state, and Karnit Flug was the first female governor of the Bank of Israel; and there is a vague possibility that the next head of the Jewish Agency will be a woman – yet another first.
There were also male firsts which caused somewhat less excitement. Yitzhak Rabin was the first native son of Israel to be prime minister. Since then, there were two others – Benjamin Netanyahu and Bennett. Yitzhak Navon was the first Sabra president, but after him came Ezer Weizman, Rivlin and Isaac Herzog. Ilan Ramon was Israel’s first astronaut, but Eytan Stibbe is all set for his initial space adventure next month.