Poland saw the extermination of nearly 3-million of its 3.3-million Jews during the Holocaust. After the war, only 380,000 Jews remained in the country. The victims were murdered by the Nazis in extermination camps like Auschwitz on Polish soil.
Though the lion’s share of guilt for this crime against humanity rests with Nazi Germany, Poles were not innocent bystanders as the current far-right Polish government would have us believe. Some Holocaust historians estimate that up to 200,000 Jews were murdered directly or indirectly by Poles. But the current Polish government, which has already succeeded in emasculating both the media and the legal system, now seeks to emasculate history itself by criminalizing any historical research or publication which blames Poland in any way for the Holocaust. It passed a law which threatened imprisonment for individuals found to have defamed the nation with such claims.
The law raised a storm of protest among Israelis, historians and human rights groups who protested not only that it impinged on free speech and academic freedom, but that it defiled the memory of the six-million victims of the Holocaust and the survivors as well. Protests were heard around the world, including inside the European Union, where Poland has proven to be an irascible and unruly member.
That’s how an unholy alliance developed between Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party and Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu. They both needed each other to advance their own separate, but parallel political agendas. Poland needed the cover provided by Israel’s acquiescence to the new law. And Netanyahu has continuously sought foreign allies who could help advance his own foreign policy goals. In this case, he faces an increasingly united European Union, whose protests against Israeli Occupation and ongoing violence against Palestinians have added to Israeli isolation on the world stage. As a result, he’s forged new alliances with insurgent right-wing movements, which in some cases rule their nations (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia), and in others are challenged the prevailing center-left democratic governments (UK, France, Germany).
Viktor Orban is another example of a right-wing politician ruling Hungary whose views are implicitly, and at times explicitly anti-Semitic. But as Orban is a devout opponent of Islam and rising immigration, Netanyahu has made fast friends with him. Netanyahu visited Hungary several months ago, just after Orban launched an anti-Semitic campaign against his one-time patron, George Soros, as a tool to advance his electoral prospects (he won a massive victory).
Now Orban plans to return the favor. For possibly the first time in its history, Israel will welcome an avowedly anti-Semitic head of state on a state visit. Ironically, all such visits involve a pilgrimage to Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum. It will be interesting to see how the institution responds to this visit and whether it welcomes him as it would any other world leader. To do so, would in my opinion amount to whitewashing Orban’s repugnant views and be an insult to the 400,000 Hungarian Jews murdered with the collaboration of Hungary’s then-fascist leaders, whose reputation has now been revived by Orban’s political movement.
Yad Vashem, the pre-eminent Holocaust research center, has issued a public statement denouncing the Polish-Israel Holocaust agreement:
Its “highly problematic wording … contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field,” Yad Vashem said of the agreement between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki.
The wording, the center said, in effect supports “a narrative that research has long since disproved, namely, that the Polish government in exile and its underground arms strove indefatigably — in occupied Poland and elsewhere — to thwart the extermination of Polish Jewry.”
The June 27 agreement between Netanyahu and Morawiecki stated that the term “Polish death camps” is “blatantly erroneous” and that the World War II Polish government in exile “attempted to stop this Nazi activity by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies to the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.”
The center said the agreement contradicts “decades of historical research [that] reveal a totally different picture: Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread phenomena.”
Reading this passage, brought me back to one of the themes I’ve written about here a number of times: the degree to which Bibi Netanyahu falsifies Jewish history in service to his political interests. His are sins of omission and commission: like the false claim that the original idea of exterminating European Jewry came not from Hitler, but from Hajj Amin al-Husseini.
A few years ago, I wrote this post about the distortions and errors in a book that Bibi wrote:
…The book portrays alleged Arab collusion with the Nazis. A sharp Israeli, living in Germany no less, printed a page from the book on Facebook and noted that in just a single sentence Bibi made no less than three errors. Bibi’s sentence reads:
“Egypt can boast of a worthy trove of war criminals, like the SS Gen. Oskar Derlewanger, who murdered thousands of Jews in Ukraine and was made Nasser’s chief of security.”
Ron Leyser retorts that Derlewanger was a colonel, not a general. That the SS officer never stepped foot in Ukraine (though he did murder Jews and Poles elsewhere). And finally that Derlewanger died in 1945, well before Nasser ever came to power. If there ever was a politician who murdered truth, it has to be Bibi.
In one of Bibi’s more outrageous historical equivalences, he likened the BDS movement to the anti-Jewish blood libel. Here he lectured his cabinet as his historian father, Ben Zion Netanyahu once did to his students:
They accused us of being the source of the world’s evil, they said we poison the wells of humanity, that we drink the blood of little children. All these things are said about us today as well. It wasn’t true then and it’s not true now…
This week we had to fight off a great international effort to expel us from FIFA. I’m happy that we succeeded in this. This will be part of a continuing effort [against us]. I won’t pretend that these efforts will end soon. We will have to act against them on many fronts. But the main thing that must fortify us is the truth, and the inner pride that we know who we are, what we are, and what we represent. We will not surrender to libels.
Singling out Bibi Netanyahu from all the world’s politicians for mangling historical facts is problematic, since politics forces most of them to lie in order to promote their particular ideology or political platform. But in some cases, these lies lead to massive bloodshed and human catastrophe. Adolf Hitler was one such figure. Donald Trump may be another, although that remains to be seen. One can make a credible argument that Bibi’s record of repeated distortion of historical reality in favor of his anti-democratic, intolerant, racist views incites a good deal of the violence inflicted on both Palestinians and, to a lesser extent, Israelis.
One of the great ironies here is that Bibi’s father was a renowned historian of the Jewish Middle Ages who taught at Cornell University. Earlier in his career, the elder Netanyahu served as personal secretary to Zeev Jabotinsky, founder of the Zionist Revisionists, the leading political opponents of Avodah, which became the Labor Party. One of the prevailing criticisms of Netanyahu’s historical scholarship is that he offered a revisionist view of the traumas of Jewish history filtered through the lens of the Holocaust. This is, in many ways, what his son does as a politician and it is what many Israelis themselves do. They cripple themselves in the face of current reality by reverting to old archetypes and expecting they will repeat themselves.
The fact that such an eminent historian can produce a son who dishonors the Jewish historical record so flagrantly and repeatedly is a depressing phenomenon.