Polish anti-Semitism: Outdated, outclassed

By Dr. Eitan Orkibi, ISRAEL HAYOM

Last Thursday, Poland’s parliament passed a controversial bill that would make it illegal to suggest that Poland bore any responsibility for crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis during the occupation of Poland during World War II. On Tuesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda said he would sign the bill into law. But we must not let the controversy surrounding the Holocaust bill overshadow the deep and meaningful work that the current Polish generation has undertaken in regard to the country’s past, specifically relating to the fate of its Jews under the Nazi occupation.

Be it the 2013 movie “Ida” or the successful play “Our Class,” contemporary Polish society is actively engaged in painful self-reflection in an effort to grapple with its sins. With astounding openness, today’s Poles are examining the unresolved relationship between their Polish identity and anti-Semitism.

Just weeks ago, the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv hosted an impressive production of the Polish play “Jacob’s Story.” The play is a tragicomedy about a Catholic priest on a journey of self-discovery after learning he was actually born to a Jewish family that was wiped out in the Holocaust. The production sends a message that is a central theme in contemporary Polish culture: As ironic as it may sound after the Holocaust, Polish culture would not exist without Judaism.

This may be the reason why Poland is now one of the bustling centers of Jewish culture in Europe. Every major Polish city hosts at least one festival a year dedicated to either Jewish Klezmer music, Jewish folklore or Jewish art. The educated elite in Poland are ravenous for contemporary Israeli culture, theater, literature and cinema, perceived as a distant echo of Polish Jewry, the legacy of which is somehow still close to home.

It’s true that Poland is still teeming with a vulgar anti-Semitism, and when it rears its head it can be truly frightening. It is disconcerting to think that some of the political elite in Poland could be influenced by primitive hatred of Jews, or that the current legislative efforts are meant to serve nationalist ends, including anti-Semitic ones.

But don’t let the controversy surrounding the Holocaust bill obscure the fact that in Poland, anti-Semitism, as revolting as it may be, characterizes mainly lowly pockets of ignorance and populism, whereas most of the cultural elite and educated youth actively distance themselves from it.

Across the West, however, there is a prevalent anti-Israel sentiment that, unlike anti-Semitism in Poland, characterizes mainly the cultural elites. So while Polish anti-Semites demonize an abstract archetype of a Jew, the Western anti-Israel pathology focuses its hatred on a very concrete State of Israel and its citizens.

There is a booming industry surrounding the development and distribution of anti-Israel propaganda, consumed on campuses and at cultural centers in the form of philosophy, literature, film or art – not as the political propaganda that it is. The ideas touted by this industry have become a trademark, not to mention a status symbol, of the cultural elites in the West.

When the German foreign minister insists on meeting with representatives of the radical left-wing group Breaking the Silence – an Israeli NGO that opposes IDF actions in Judea and Samaria – rather than meeting Israel’s prime minister during an official state visit, it becomes apparent that this anti-Israel sentiment is profoundly affecting intellectuals and policymakers around the world. Just think what will happen when today’s indoctrinated students begin manning senior positions in diplomacy, finance, law and the world leadership.

Without all due respect to Polish anti-Semitism, if anything should raise the alarm at the moment, it is the malignant growth of anti-Israeli sentiment in the minds of the policymakers and ideologues of tomorrow.

For them, Israel is a dark mixture of war crimes, refugee deportations, fundamentalism and rising fascism. To them, Israeli citizens are still pawns of an evil that the rest of the world is no longer guilty of: colonialism, apartheid and such. In my view, this is far more menacing than a rabble of inflamed Polish peasants.

Dr. Eithan Orkibi is a senior sociology and anthropology lecturer at Ariel University.

February 6, 2018 | 1 Comment »

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  1. Please distinguish among completely different elements at work.

    Do not be fooled by moving ceremonies at Holocaust celebrations, and memorial sites at former death camps. Many Europeans celebrate dead Jews. It makes it all the more easy to vilify living Israelis. That is why the old Jewish cemetery in Prague is such a beloved touristic destination for thousands of German holidaymakers.

    The same can be said of the Jewish revival festivals in Poland. It is done to relieve a bad conscience. It’s also good business. For that reason, Poland seeks to establish an obvious lie, that they had nothing to do with the murder of millions of Jews in their country. In spite of a few notable courageous righteous individuals, many Poles gleefully did all they could to aid and abet the Third Reich in the genocide. And after the War, they continued to slaughter off the few survivors that managed to reappear.

    So the above mentioned Jewish Klezmer festivals do not mean much. But this notwithstanding, genuine positive pro-Israel currents do exist in Poland, in the Visegrad + 4 countries (Poland, Slovak, Czech and Hungary plus Austria).

    These undercurrents are skeptic of a totalitarian EU in the making, they are freedom seeking, they oppose an Islamization of Europe, and they are sympathetic to Israel.

    The new political ideologies are as yet not well defined, and they are having a hard time, unfairly being subjected to the vitriol of established media, academia and existing political parties. These are not neo Nazis or rabble rousing demagogues as the media would like to have us believe. They are led by people who experienced the detriments of totalitarian systems in Soviet era prisons, they studied the great thinkers of freedom and the merits of capitalism. These politicians abhor the dictates of public state broadcasting, censored newspapers and doctored social media. They object to a mass migration of hostile foreign invaders decreed from an unanswerable Brussels.

    Without alienating the current powers to be still in place, Israel would do better to start cultivate these fresh and new forces. Yet there is little understanding of this phenomenon in an Israel where the Likud has moved so far leftwards, that Begin must be spinning in his grave.

    Unhappily, the new European parties are typically ignored by Israeli diplomats, and mostly attacked and ostracized by European Jewish leaders as well.