The strange adventures of a little stone

Why does the Polish president’s visit to Yoni’s grave prove that Netanyahu is incapable of doing his job?

STONES ON a grave tablet in the Mount of Olives cemetery. (photo credit: REUTERS)
STONES ON a grave tablet in the Mount of Olives cemetery.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Several days ago Polish President Andrzej Duda visited the State of Israel. During his visit to Mount Herzl Duda paid his respects at the grave of Lt.-Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, escorted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, placing a wreath and a little stone on the grave.
Netanyahu uploaded a photo of the event to his Facebook page and wrote: “Polish president Andrzej Duda asked to visit the grave of my brother Yoni, of blessed memory, today. When we visited the grave at Mount Herzl together, the president laid down a memorial bouquet and a stone he had brought with him from the Warsaw Ghetto. Yoni was a hero to all mankind, he told me, and I could not conceal the dimensions of my emotion, or the depth to which I miss him.”
This short post infuriated Uri Misgav, who reacted with a scholarly blog published in Haaretz with the headline: “Agitator and Arsonist: Netanyahu is Dangerous for Israel.”
And why?
In the sub-headline Misgav states vehemently: “From the bloodshed at Umm al-Hiran to the Polish president visiting Yoni’s grave, the prime minister proved during the last day that he is incapable of doing his job.”
Why does the Polish president’s visit to Yoni’s grave prove that Netanyahu is incapable of doing his job?
Well, according to Misgav this incident sent a “shameful” message and was “a disclosure of a grotesque within the tragedy” that “proves best Netanyahu’s present mental state.”
“Once,” preaches Misgav, “they used to take foreign leaders for a visit to Yad Vashem. In other states it is customary to honor the hosting state by laying a wreath on the statue of the Unknown Soldier. The constantly investigated Netanyahu drags his guest – of course ‘at his request’ – to Mount Herzl, not to Herzl’s grave, God forbid, but to the grave of the fallen soldier Yoni Netanyahu. And the Polish president describes him as a hero to all mankind and lays on his grave a stone from the Warsaw Ghetto. Here is the historical timeline of the resurrection of the Jewish People in their homeland: Shoah forever, Entebbe forever, Netanyahu forever. What a disgraceful act. What an ongoing disrespect for the families of the other Israeli fallen soldiers.”
If Misgav had made the slightest effort to check the facts before writing his poisonous essay he would have realized that the Polish president did visit Yad Vashem. This wouldn’t even have demanded a deep investigation – reading a daily newspaper, even Haaretz, would have been enough. Had he read such a newspaper, Misgav might have also discovered that Duda visited the Western Wall and the Great Leaders of the Nation plot on Mount Herzl. He would have also discovered that President Duda’s visit to Yoni’s grave was indeed at his request and that Netanyahu did not have to “drag his guest” to his brother’s grave.
But why spoil a good smear with facts?
Unlike Misgav, Michael Handelzalts carried out an in-depth investigation.
After stating that “as an Israeli and Polish citizen, I felt as though the leaders of my two countries were concurrently desecrating the Polish, Jewish and Israeli memories” central to “my three identities,” he went to thoroughly investigate.
After a comprehensive investigation with the Polish embassy in Israel as well as with the Prime Minister’s Office, Handelzalts revealed that “contrary to the doubts expressed by my colleague Uri Misgav the president of Poland really did, at his own initiative, ask to visit the grave of Yoni Netanyahu, during his ceremonial visit to Mount Herzl, after laying bouquets on the graves of Rabin and Peres.”
“The Israeli Foreign Ministry,” Handelzalts informs us, “advised the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday of last week and Netanyahu, moved by the gesture, hastened to Mount Herzl the next afternoon.”
One would assume that all is well that ends well. Yet this was not enough to ease Handelzalts’ distress.
“As a concerned Israeli and Polish citizen,” he clarified, “I was unsettled by the question of why the president of Poland decided to lay on Yoni Netanyahu’s grave a stone, which he brought with him, of all places, from the Warsaw Ghetto.”
“As a writer about matters of minutiae,” Handelzalts rushed to find out where exactly Duda had found that “stone from the Warsaw Ghetto.” Handelzalts, we must admit, spared no effort to solve this puzzle and bring truth to light. His investigation included the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, which is located in the former ghetto, to Yad Vashem and the Polish Foreign Ministry, as well as at the Polish embassy in Israel, and “the video clip in English which the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office uploaded.” Handelzalts’ strenuous efforts were fruitful and his mission successful.
“This was not a stone that the president of Poland ‘had brought with him from the Warsaw Ghetto,’” said Sherlock Handelzalts. Although one could have reached this conclusion by merely watching Prime Minister’s Office video clip, one must praise Handelzalts’ efforts to place the conclusion beyond any doubt. To this end he even referred to the Polish president’s office, which “confirmed by email that the stone had come from Warsaw, but not from the ghetto area, nor had it been presented as such.”
And how did this tragic mistake regarding the identity of the stone occur? Handelzalts provides an explanation offered by President Duda’s spokesperson: “Netanyahu had engaged in by President Duda, as ‘Warsaw Ghetto,’ over interpretation’ and understood the word ‘Warsaw’, as ‘Warsaw Ghetto’.”
One might have suggested this to be an honest mistake. After all President Duda carried the stone all the way from Warsaw “in his right-hand trouser pocket.” The more so since, as confirmed by Handelzalts, “Duda’s visit in Israel was in no small part focused on the decimation of Polish Jewry by the Germans on Polish soil.”
Yet please don’t underestimate this fatal mistake. Handelzalts speaks about these as “days of ‘post truth’” and gave his stone-breaking essay the title: “A Stone from Warsaw as an alternative fact,” no less.
It is thus that Handelzalts informs us that while “at least, my sense of insult as a Pole and a Jew was appeased, as an Israeli, I still feel considerable unease, to put it mildly, when politicians – led by the prime minister – use the word ‘Holocaust’ as a political prop of professional victims and insult the memory of its horrors, mainly in order to justify, in a very dangerous way, ‘processes’ that Israeli society is undergoing.”
Haaretz’s editors, too, celebrated Handelzalts’ dramatic findings. Not satisfied with including Handelzalts’ sensational essay in the op-ed section, they also put it at the top of the front page of the Internet edition. They moreover state dramatically: “That’s how Netanyahu builds the Shoah with a stone that was not from the Warsaw Ghetto.”
And what about Misgav? He addresses Netanyahu directly: “Your brother Yoni would have been ashamed of you. Go home and release us from your punishment and from your perils.”
And for those who wonder whether just because of one little stone Yoni should be ashamed and the prime minister should resign, one should notice that originally the essay included a further section. Following Netanyahu’s post some readers recalled Yoni’s participation in the 1973 “Operation Spring of Youth” assassinating three PLO leaders in Beirut.
This was too much for Misgav who reacted: “To Netanyahu’s shameful post several of his supporters reacted that they remember how Yoni led Operation Spring of Youth. Good that they did not mention how Yoni led the Warsaw Ghetto uprising... What does it matter that Yoni took no part in that operation i?”
But what can we do? Yoni did take part in the operation.
When faced with the fact by “Presspectiva,” a website dedicated to accuracy and accountability in Israeli media, Misgav delivered another typical reaction: “The mistake was already corrected. Thank you for your attention. I hope you will continue to carefully read Haaretz. There is no newspaper like it!”
Well, he may be right about that.
The author is dean of the Peres Academic Center Law School in Rehovot.