Grapevine, February 21: No escaping antisemitism

POLISH AMBASSADOR to Israel Marek Magierowski.  (photo credit: NOAM FEINER)
POLISH AMBASSADOR to Israel Marek Magierowski.
(photo credit: NOAM FEINER)
Almost everywhere one goes these days, the subject of rising antisemitism or past antisemitism will enter the conversation sooner or later. It crops up at international conferences in which the key subject may be altogether different, but the conversation nonetheless turns to antisemitism and persecution of Jews.
In looking at the past, differences in attitudes and sensitivities between Poles and Israelis and Poles and Jews stand in the path of historical truth. While historians should be guided by facts rather than emotions, facts are often overwhelmed by emotions or political considerations in researching shared Polish-Jewish history before, during and after the Holocaust.
While many Jews say that the Poles were complicit with the Germans in persecuting and murdering Jews, many Poles – while admitting that there were Poles who persecuted and murdered Jews – insist that it was not government policy and therefore it cannot be attributed to a whole nation. Moreover, more non-Jewish Poles have been recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous among the Nations, than non-Jews from any other country. Eminent historian Prof. Yehuda Bauer believes many more Poles deserve such recognition, but that the necessary documentation required as proof is not available.
While acknowledging that the Polish nation can be proud of its struggle against the Germans, Prof. Havi Dreifuss of Tel Aviv University and Yad Vashem said that Poland should take responsibility for things done by Poles. There is great research interest in Poland in Jews killed by Jews, she says, “but not Jews killed by Poles.”
Differences in perception between Poles and Jews emerged sharply at the Fourth Polish-Israeli Foreign Policy Conference held this week at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, under the joint auspices of the Polish Institute of International Affairs and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations.
As a result of these differences, observed ICFR director-general Laurence Weinbaum, relations between Israel and Poland are subjected to tremendous strain, and can be characterized as an ongoing crisis.
This crisis is being exacerbated in both countries by politicians and by agitators on social media, he said.
Weinbaum is a historian by training and studied in Poland when it was still under a Communist regime. Like any true historian, he is interested in facts rather than fancy, and noted that no one has a monopoly on ignorance. He cited one of the most common expressions of ignorance – even by distinguished scholars: referring to concentration camps that were set up by the Germans as Polish concentration camps.
Someone at the conference made a reference to the different ways in which Polish and Jewish historians research the Holocaust, a remark that tried Bauer’s patience.
“There is no such thing as a Jewish historian or a Polish historian. You are either an historian or you are not!” he declared.
Bauer and other speakers also stressed the importance of context in researching history. For instance, there is a distortion by some Poles who say there was no collaboration. It’s true, there was no collaboration, said Bauer, but that was because the Germans didn’t want the Poles. “There was a whole German program for eliminating the Polish intelligentsia and turning the Polish people into slaves.”
Poland’s Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski and Poland’s Ambassador to Switzerland Jakub Kumoch, while making no attempt to conceal the fact that there were Poles who engaged in murder, persecution and betrayal, also underscored that Poles in general, not just Jewish Poles, were victims of genocide under the Germans.
This point was emphasized by Prof. Andrzej Nowak, whose many titles include that of member of the Council of Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance. He suggested that historians should look beyond antisemitism during the Holocaust years. A third of Poland’s peasants were killed under German occupation, as well as many Roman Catholic priests.
Nowak admitted that he hadn’t taken too much notice of Holocaust history until he saw Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah, which shocked him profoundly. His initial impression was that Lanzmann wanted to warn audiences to “watch out for the beast that sits in you.” He then discovered that Lanzmann was not interested in accusing specific criminals, “but a whole nation with which I identified.”
This modular view is expressed in Israel, where so many people believe that all Poles are antisemites, said Nowak, adding that filmmaker Steven Spielberg had also contributed to such prejudice when he stated publicly that Poles persecuted Jews long before Hitler.
■ ANTISEMITISM WAS also on the agenda of International Muni-Expo 2020, hosted in Tel Aviv by the Federation of Local Authorities. Frankfurt Mayor Uwe Becker said that in Germany, “Antisemitism and hatred of Jews is growing. There are organizations that want to spread hate and change societies. They are trending, they use social networks, and all the possibilities to spread hate,” said Becker, adding that it’s up to local municipalities to change what is happening on the ground.
“What increases antisemitism is a lack of knowledge,” he explained. “People don’t know about Jewish life. Young people in Germany know about hate and the Shoah [Holocaust], but they don’t know about normal Jewish life in the 21st century. The average German child learns that in 1933, Germans started killing Jews, and then by 1945, the war was over. Children don’t learn about Jewish life; they only know that Jews are victims.”
■ WHAT WILL English-speaking Tel Avivians be doing from 8 p.m. on election night, March 2, while waiting for the results? At least 1,000 of them will be jammed into Hangar 11 on the Port of Tel Aviv to listen to celebrated, controversial civil rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who will be speaking under the auspices of the Tel Aviv International Salon, and giving his take on possible scenarios during 2020.
Dershowitz will be arriving at the salon fresh from his presentation as a member of Donald Trump’s legal team at the impeachment trial in the US Senate, where he defended the Constitution. He has also recently published a thought-provoking book, Guilt by Accusation: The Challenge of Proving Innocence in the Age of #MeToo, and a memoir about his many instances of speaking up for Israel and contesting the injustices to which Israel and the Jewish people have been subjected.
The book, Defending Israel: The Story of My Relationship with My Most Challenging Client, can be used as a guideline for all those who have to stand up and speak up for Israel in an increasingly hostile world.
■ THE ISRAELI elections are also of interest to the hundreds of thousands of Israeli expats living in America, many of whom are expected to show up at the Israel Shelanu election party that starts in New York at 9 p.m. on March 2. It should be remembered that Jerusalem is seven hours ahead of New York, so when people at the party get the election results, it will be in Israel’s pre-dawn hours of March 3. While the final results will not be available because the votes of soldiers are always counted last, the trend will definitely be known.
This year, Israelis living in the US have been permitted and even encouraged to vote for the first American-Israeli slate running in the election for the World Zionist Congress. Founded by two Israeli Americans, Shanie Korbelnik and Kobi Cohen, Israel Shelanu aims to represent pluralistic Israeli Americans, and to establish Hebrew-language cultural centers across America.
It’s interesting how the candidates prioritize their identities. Sarit Ron, for instance, says she is a Jewish, Israeli American woman who raised a family in the US, while Yael Cohen says she is proudly Israeli, Jewish and American.
Jerusalem-born and raised Kobi Cohen, who is one of the founders of Israel Shelanu, says he is passionate about Israel, Hebrew, Zionism and Jewish peoplehood, and believes that one cannot be sustained without the other. If he’s all that passionate, why has he chosen the Big Apple in favor of the Holy City?
It’s going to be tough for the Israel Shelanu candidates who expected to be endorsed by the powerful Israel America Council, which receives much of its funding through the generosity of Sheldon Adelson. Instead, the IAC, headed by Naty Saidoff and Aya Shechter, is giving its support to a rival movement called Kol Israel.
■ ISRAEL’S AMBASSADOR to China Zvi Heifetz is having a really tough time. A large percentage of his staff has been quarantined, which means there’s a huge backlog of work. Some of the Israeli diplomats have been quarantined in either China or Israel, as a result of which they are also in danger of losing their jobs due to an overlong absence from work.
The diplomats escorted their families home and were quarantined here. When they returned to China, they were quarantined again because they had traveled from the airport to their homes, which are located in a residential complex that has been largely quarantined, Heifetz said in a radio interview on Wednesday.
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