(March 6, 2018 / JNS) It’s a very good thing that Poland took a step backwards against a decision that not only absolved it of guilt, but also made it a liar.
It gave in to common sentiment, which populism tends to do. Wisely, the government decided not to implement a law that could lead to a fine and up to three years in prison for anyone who refers to Nazi extermination camps on its territory during World War II as “Polish death camps” or accuses Polish citizens of being complicit in the extermination of the Jews.
Poland’s President Andrzej Duda signed the bill into law earlier this month after it was passed in the Senate. What followed was a rhetorical escalation of petty nationalism, and on the other side, of accusations of anti-Semitism. Probably things changed after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, clearly rigidly playing his role, publicly declared that while there were some “Polish perpetrators,” there were also “Jewish perpetrators” responsible for the Holocaust.
Here, the crisis erupted over how incongruous the Polish law was: How could anyone compare what happened to the Jews—the desperate and persecuted victims—to that of the persecutors and their accomplices?
Then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wisely, notwithstanding the requests of breaking all relations with Poland and calling back the ambassador, spoke at length with Morawiecki with the idea, which his shocked critics opposed, that Israel should find a way to talk with Poland. And the road has been found. The Polish Foreign Ministry announced that it will put the law on hold in order to amend its wording, and a Polish delegation will arrive in Israel on Wednesday to find an acceptable solution together.
Technically, it’s true that the “Nazis,” and certainly not the “Poles,” undertook the extermination of the Jews. There were Poles who fought the Nazis with courage, but it’s also true that the Poles haven’t fully come to terms with their own terrible history of anti-Semitism, which was expressed both during the Shoah and after the war.
And yet the Polish law can’t be attributed to new anti-Semitism since it is evident that the law itself highlights its current repulsion with respect to the persecution of the Jews. And it’s very important for the Jewish state to be able to ascertain, especially at a time in which genocidal anti-Semitism by extreme Islam and its supporters threaten Israel and its people, whether those countries that have elected governments that aren’t on the left should be suspected or accused of anti-Semitism. The answer is that among populism and nationalism, anti-Semitism can rise its ugly head, but it’s a phenomena that doesn’t necessarily involve the state where this happens. Therefore, the best choice is not to send everybody, including the institutions, to hell, but to ask them to fight anti-Semitism and prove that they really do. This will probably be asked of the Polish leaders involved.
Now Israel—although very attentive to displays of Holocaust negationism—realizes that its enemies are the fascists, the Nazis, and not the moderate governments of Eastern Europe. This is very important, especially when confronted by a hostile European Union headed by Federica Mogherini, which has taken a pro-Iranian stance. So much so that the international governmental body never once uttered a single word about Iran’s genocidal intentions vis-à-vis the Jews.
Isn’t this anti-Semitism—real anti-Semitism?
The wave of controversy against Poland thus seems unwarranted for now. There was a lie, but not anti-Semitism. Israel must monitor the neo-Nazis in order to ensure that they never again propagate hate, but the Poles don’t seem to belong in the same category, and Israel did well to reserve judgment because of that.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translation by Amy Rosenthal.