How to Respond to Poland’s New Law Censoring Discussion of the Holocaust

A law recently passed by the Polish parliament declares it illegal to use the phrase “Polish death camps” to refer to the factories of mass-murder built by Germany on Polish soil during World War II. More ominously, the law also states that “whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich . . . shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years.” While calling the law “foolish,” Jonathan Tobin also urges Jews to be circumspect in their response:

[The law] is an attempt to deny the long history of Polish antisemitism, the fact that some Poles helped the Germans kill Jews, and the hostile and sometimes violent reception Jewish survivors got when they tried to return to their homes after the war. . . .

But as wrongheaded as this bill is, this is a moment for Jews to stop and think about the meaning of history and its implications for our lives today. . . . Jewish attitudes toward Poles are still more the product of historical memories than of the generally good relations that exist today between Israel and Poland. Jew-hatred was widespread in the independent Polish republic that was destroyed by a German invasion in 1939. [Beginning in the 1930s], it was also officially sanctioned by the government and rooted in centuries of religious prejudice whipped up by many in the Catholic Church. . . .

[Yet], as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has noted, talk of “Polish death camps” is inaccurate. The phrase shifts blame from the Nazis who perpetrated the Holocaust to the invaded nation where the bulk of the murders took place. The Holocaust was the fault of its German perpetrators and their collaborators, not the Poles. The fact that the death camps were located in Poland was a function of logistics, not a belief that that Poles would help the Nazis kill Jews. . . .

Jews and Poles don’t need to be enemies anymore. To the contrary, given Poland’s delicate strategic situation and the ongoing attacks on Israel, they have much in common. So rather than engaging in mutual condemnations, Jewish critics of the new law should speak with the same understanding and compassion for Polish suffering and sensibilities that they demand for their own history.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Holocaust, Poland, Politics & Current Affairs

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank