In his critique of Dara Horn’s book titled, People Love Dead Jews, Elliott Abrams explains how “Horn’s target is a world obsessed with dead Jews, whether found in Holocaust memorials, the rebuilding of old and abandoned synagogues and cemeteries, or in assigning students the reading of The Diary of Anne Frank.” While exploiting Jewish memory, the global appeal of Holocaust “education” has also resulted in centralizing Jewish death above celebrating Jewish life. Watching the political fallout unfold between Israel and Poland, it’s difficult to escape the impression that the Holocaust continues to play a role in shaping Israel’s foreign policy. This phenomenon is evidenced by the diplomatic rift between the two countries following passage of Poland’s law involving property compensation.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda signed a restitution bill into law last month that sets a 30-year cap on legal cases concerning attempts to claim seized property. Pending proceedings addressing stolen property that date back more than 30 years would also be terminated. While Poland’s law doesn’t specifically mention Jews, its impact on Jewish claimants being unable to reclaim assets taken during World War II has understandably angered many Holocaust survivors and their heirs. That being said, Israel’s coalition government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, is elevating a disappointing decision by Poland into a crisis that may permanently damage ties between the two countries. Lapid called the law “immoral and anti-Semitic,” and effectively accused the Polish government of Holocaust denial by alleging that Poland is “an anti-democratic and non-liberal country that does not honor the greatest human tragedy in history.” Further downgrading relations, Lapid requested that Israel’s newly appointed Ambassador to Poland, Yacov Livne, remain in Israel.
Lapid’s outsize reaction fails to account for the bolstered ties between Israel and the Visegrád group comprising Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. As prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s diplomatic maneuvering advanced security cooperation between Israel and Visegrad’s member countries. In 2019, as part of a $125 million deal, the Czech Republic acquired Israel’s Iron Dome air-defense system. Israel Aerospace Industries and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are also among the leading contenders in helping Poland modernize its short-range missile capabilities through its Narew program. And last year, Israel and Poland inked an agreement establishing the exchange of information in the field of cybersecurity. In 2019, several Western European countries, including Germany, declined to attend a Warsaw conference co-hosted by Poland and the United States, which focused on combating Iranian aggression in the Middle East.
Even prior to his role as foreign minister, Lapid focused his ire on Eastern Europe, while treating Germany, the perpetrators of the Holocaust, as a beacon of atonement. In 2013, he quipped about “Israelis moving to Berlin” but in Budapest embarrassed his Hungarian hosts, reminding them that the “Holocaust could not have happened without the active help of tens of thousands of Hungarians and the silence of millions more.” Hungary, a stalwart supporter of Israel, was one of six countries last year that blocked European Union action against the Jewish state by opposing a resolution condemning former President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan.
Israel’s misguided diplomacy is also reverberating through Washington, where Democratic lawmakers, most of whom remained mum during rocket attacks against Israelis last May, are appropriating this political moment to dramatize their support for the Jewish people. More Democratic senators signed a letter rebuking Duda over Poland’s property law than defended Israel on the Senate floor during its war with Hamas. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Aug. 16 tweet claiming that he is “deeply disappointed” by Poland’s new law, was eagerly followed up a day later by Lapid, who publicly thanked Blinken and the United States for “standing shoulder to shoulder” with the Israeli people.”
This propagation of the Holocaust mirrors historical trends among some liberal lawmakers who wish to distract from their fractious support for Israel. In her piece “The Dark Side of Holocaust Education,” Professor Ruth Wisse notes that the “idea of a National Holocaust Memorial was initially promoted by Jewish officials in the Carter administration” when “relations between Jimmy Carter and the Jewish community at the time had plummeted.” Wisse notes Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s (N.Y.) well-timed 2019 introduction of the Holocaust-related “Never Again Education Act,” came three months before Democrats refused to censure Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for her anti-Semitic rhetoric.
For his part, Bennett’s calculating comments declaring Poland’s property law a “shameful decision and disgraceful contempt for the memory of the Holocaust” were made two weeks before meeting U.S. President Joe Biden. Bennett’s condemnation sought to deflect from Biden’s self-inflicted policies that led to America’s tragic and humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, and which portends the level of friendship Israel can expect from this Administration. Most disturbing is that Bennett’s statement targeting Poland occurred in tandem with his commitment to refrain from publicly speaking against America’s role in rejoining the Iran nuclear agreement. As the leading global sponsor of terrorism, Iran’s race towards nuclear-weapons capabilities will have catastrophic consequences for millions of Israelis. That Israel’s government deems scuffling with a crucial ally over property claims above the more pressing issue of Iran is indicative of a flawed diplomatic doctrine.
Bennet and Lapid’s foreign policy is rooted in a political grievance that, if not reined in, will lead to the abandonment of Israel’s protectors in the E.U. and potentially paralyze any movement to counter the dangerous global threats facing the Jewish state. The most effective role Israel’s government can play in memorializing the 6 million Jewish lives lost during World War II is to concentrate its energies on protecting Israeli citizens. Through exercising their right to Jewish self-determination, they remain the millions who are fulfilling Judaism’s answer to the Holocaust by residing in the State of Israel.
Irit Tratt is a writer and pro-Israel advocate. Her work has appeared in “The Jerusalem Post,” “The Algemeiner” and “Israel Hayom.”