(May 16, 2019 / Israel Hayom) The “war of remembrance” that has been fought between Poland and Israel for the past year-and-a-half is an unnecessary war, the fans of which are being flamed by populist officials in both countries who distort the past and the present for their own political ends.
It is not the achievement of historical justice they have in mind, but rather a desire to take advantage of the sensitive issue of diplomatic ties between Jews and Poles, and use it as a battering ram against their political rivals back home, even if that means sabotaging national interests.
Due to historically sensitive ties between Israel and Poland, the political opponents of these populists are obligated to respond in such a way as to deepen the crisis. Every time it seems a way has been found to put ties back on track, the populists find a way to raise the issues again.
Those who believe in the importance of the relationship between Israel and Poland—and there are many such people, on both sides—watch helplessly from the sidelines as ties deteriorate.
To the populists’ cynical game we can add the mistakes made by decision-makers, wretched remarks and a media that is leading us toward conflict. All of these elements have helped create the abyss that now separates the governments in Warsaw and Jerusalem. The Poles are confident that Israel’s conduct is the result of deep-rooted anti-Polish sentiment. The Israelis believe the Poles are motivated by a desire to rewrite history and evade responsibility for what was done to the Jews during and after World War II.
The crisis has come to a head in recent months, with the right-wing governments in both Israel and Poland finding themselves in the midst of crucial election campaigns. While the elections in Israel may be over, a coalition has yet to be formed. In just a few days, Poland will hold elections for the European Parliament, and in the fall, general elections will be held in the country.
If up until this point Poland’s nationalist conservative Law and Justice Party has enjoyed hegemony over the right-wing camp, in recent months a most problematic competitor has come into being: the “Confederation” coalition, which includes among its members anti-Semitic and homophobic elements that want to pull Poland out of the European Union, and either execute or imprison labor-union leaders.
For the radicals in Poland, the issue of the restitution of Jewish property has been something of a godsend in the run-up to elections. In Israel, the delicate situation of Poland’s ruling party could have been taken into consideration, so as not to play into the hands of extremists.
While the rift now seems irreparable, it is precisely when passions are running high that talks for a ceasefire should be held. These talks do not need to be conducted in public, and they should not focus on putting on fires, but rather lay the foundation for a strong relationship between the countries in the future. Both Warsaw and Jerusalem have a lot to gain from a strong and stable relationship, and much to lose from giving in to the populists.
This column first appeared on Israel Hayom.