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I don’t know how I missed this Haaretz story when it came out in 2009. It’s quite shocking, though not surprising considering what we know about the ruthless pursuit of national interest at the expense of fellow Jews after the Holocaust and even to the present day.
Golda Meir became foreign minister in 1958. Though this was a decade after the State’s founding and thirteen years after World War II ended, Israel was still accepting Holocaust survivors fleeing the European slaughter. Among the countries sending such individuals to Israel was Poland, which had the most Jews (3-million) in all of Europe before the War.
Though in 1948 Israel was desperate to populate its territory with any Jews it could entice to make aliyah, by 1958 it could afford to be more particular in that regard. Further, this was the period of what’s known as Tzina or “austerity.” It was in effect a period of economic contraction or stagnation that followed independence. Israelis today probably have only the faintest memory of that difficult period. But it certainly informed Golda’s horrifying proposal.
Contrary to Emma Lazarus’ poem on the Statue of Liberty, Golda didn’t Poland to give Israel:
She wanted a better quality of immigrant. So she wrote by diplomatic cable to Israel’s ambassador to Poland:
“A proposal was raised in the coordination committee to inform the Polish government that we want to institute selection in aliyah, because we cannot continue accepting sick and handicapped people. Please give your opinion as to whether this can be explained to the Poles without hurting immigration.
In other words, Israel no longer wished to accept all Holocaust survivors. It was happy to accept the professional class and those who could contribute to commerce, education and similar professions. But it no longer wished to take those who would be a burden on society (in their view).
Considering the immense suffering the survivors experienced and the level of mental and physical torture they’d undergone, you’d think Meir wouldn’t have the temerity to consign them to oblivion in a Polish backwater. But she did. Her considerations were the same that drove Ben Gurion to declare that he’d prefer to save half of European Jewry if they made aliyah, than to save all knowing they’d resettle in the Diaspora. Zionism to them was a cold, hard, brutal calculation. Certainly not a movement based on humanism or mercy. As such Zionism diverged from traditional Jewish values which demanded care and comforting of the sick and poor.
Another striking aspect of her memo is the use of the word “selection.” As I don’t have the original Hebrew, I don’t know what word was used in it. But anyone with any experience of the Holocaust would know the dreaded word selektzia used by the Germans to choose who among the Jewish victims would live or die. Most infamous of all was Dr. Mengeleh, who performed the selections as Auschwitz determining with a wave of the hand if you were to die in the crematoria, to become the victim of one of his “medical” experiments, or to live. It’s unconscionable that she would use such a word no matter whether she used the English/German word or the Hebrew equivalent. She would have known the meaning and implication of it. Unconscionable perhaps, but unsurprising, no.
It’s important to note as well that to this day Israel continues to offer Holocaust survivors little in the way of support. A country which celebrates its success and offers oligarchs billions in business deals can’t muster the few millions it would take to offer generous pensions, medical and mental health benefits to these individuals who made the ultimate sacrifice that any European Jew could make. That’s why so many of the few remaining survivors live in abject poverty. Poverty that should shame its leaders like Bibi Netanyahu, but don’t.