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The Battle over Holocaust Memory Threatens Ties between Israel and Poland


It was meant to be a diplomatic triumph for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: a much-touted diplomatic summit in Israel with four Central European states. Instead, harsh words from Israel's acting foreign minister opened a diplomatic rift threatening to damage Israeli-Polish relations severely, and the summit was canceled. Warsaw decided to pull out on the day of the meeting after Yisrael Katz, citing the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, told Israel's Channel 13 Monday morning that Poles "suckle anti-Semitism with their mother's milk," causing a national furor in both countries. Netanyahu has been promoting the meeting of the so-called Visegrad Group — an alliance of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia that represents the nationalist and conservative wing of the European Union — as heralding a nationalist bloc within the EU that supports Israeli policies more strongly than many in the west. However, he has also come under harsh criticism from domestic critics on both the right and the left, who have alleged that Netanyahu has shown an overly solicitous attitude toward Israel's Eastern and Central European allies. According to this view, Jerusalem has downplayed concerns over anti-Semitism and Holocaust memory in favor of closer engagement. Poland's decision to pull out, which effectively canceled the summit and caused the other Visegrad, or V4, nations to downgrade their diplomatic visits to merely bilateral ones, came after several days of furious denunciations and diplomatic scrambling. The controversy began on Friday when The Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu, in Warsaw for a conference on the Middle East, accused "the Polish nation" of collaborating with the Nazis. Netanyahu later clarified that he had not implicated the Poles collectively. The Post subsequently amended its story and initially, it appeared that the crisis had been averted. Katz's comments, however, revived the diplomatic crisis. "I am a son of Holocaust survivors, and I was even born and grew up in a community made up of Holocaust survivors," said Katz, a senior Likud minister just tapped by Netanyahu as acting foreign minister. "The memory of the Holocaust is something we cannot compromise about. It is clear and we won't forget or forgive. "In diplomacy, you try not to offend, but nobody will change the historical truth to do something like that," he continued. "Poles collaborated with the Nazis, definitely. As Yitzhak Shamir said, they suckle anti-Semitism with their mother's milk." Poland's ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, tweeted that he was astonished that Katz had uttered "such a shameful and racist remark." The Polish Foreign Ministry reprimanded Israeli Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari and is reported to be considering withdrawing Magierowski from Tel Aviv in protest. Katz was unapologetic, telling i24 News that "no one will tell us how to express ourselves or how to remember our fallen." By early afternoon in Jerusalem the summit had been officially canceled, a stunning reversal of last year when Netanyahu had appeared to endorse a Polish narrative of the war years and released a joint statement with his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, defending Poland's wartime record. That statement was itself an effort to repair ruptured ties after Jerusalem condemned Poland for a controversial law that made it a crime to hold Poland responsible for Nazi crimes. Addressing the controversy at a gathering of American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem on Monday morning, Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett said Jerusalem "deeply value[s its] friendship with the Polish government and people, but we cannot in any way allow anyone to revise history. That's not the way to build a good relationship." While the Polish people were also victims of the Nazis, "they also had many Poles who were involved in anti-Semitism," Bennett told members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. He went on to describe how his wife's grandfather's mother and brothers were murdered near the end of the war by a gang of Polish teens. According to Rafal Pankowski, a Polish academic and the founder of the Never Again Association, recent days have seen an uptick in anti-Semitic sentiment in Poland that appears to mirror the atmosphere that prevailed last year during the previous diplomatic crisis. During that period, local media engaged in rhetoric seen by many as anti-Semitic. Pankowski cited recent statements by journalist Rafa? Ziemkiewicz, a host on state television, who tweeted to his 166,000 followers that "the worst of it is that a man cannot even hate Jews in response" because this is what they want. Another state TV personality, Jakub Pacan, said he believed that recent Israeli comments were the moral equivalent of Pearl Harbor. "We saw the dynamics last year, so we know how it works more or less," Pankowski told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. "It's a kind of spark that activates the kind of prejudice and rhetoric that is ready made." While acknowledging the complicity of "a number of Poles" in the Holocaust, the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland responded harshly to Katz's words, saying in a statement that "accusing all Poles of anti-Semitism offends the Righteous; it also offends all those who today want to see in them the true representation of Polish society. And it also offends us, Polish Jews, who are a part of that society." "One does not clarify lies by another set of lies," Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told JTA. "It is not honest [and] it is not moral to fight lies with another set of lies. "What do you want?" he replied when asked about the uproar in Poland. Katz "functionally said that all Poles are anti-Semites. So how do you expect the Poles to react? There are irresponsible people on both sides, and when an irresponsible statement is made, it empowers other irresponsible people to react. This in no way justifies anti-Semitism in Poland, just as it does not justify distortion of the truth by Israeli leaders." The Simon Wiesenthal Center's Efraim Zuroff, a harsh critic of Poland's attempts to quash its complicated historical record, likewise reacted harshly to Katz's statement, calling it "the kind of blanket generalization that should never be made." According to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, Poland is the only European Union member without such legislation. "Jewish and non-Jewish rightful owners and their families have been waiting for many years for Poland to pass legislation to provide them some measure of justice for the property wrongfully taken from them in Poland," the WJRO said in a statement. "We urge Prime Minister Morawiecki and his Government to seize this opportunity to do justice for those who lost so much."

Future Rabbis Plant with Palestinians, Sow Rift with Israel

By Israel Hayom

Young American rabbinical students are doing more than visiting holy sites, learning Hebrew and poring over religious texts during their year abroad in Israel. In a stark departure from past programs focused on strengthening ties with Israel and Judaism, the new crop of rabbinical students is instead reaching out to the Palestinians. The change reflects a divide between Israeli and American Jews that appears to be widening. On a recent winter morning, Tyler Dratch, a 26-year-old rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Boston, was among some two dozen Jewish students planting olive trees in the Palestinian village of At-Tuwani in the southern West Bank. "Before coming here and doing this, I couldn't speak intelligently about Israel," Dratch said. "We're saying that we can take the same religion settlers use to commit violence in order to commit justice, to make peace." Dratch, not wanting to be mistaken for a settler, covered his kippah with a baseball cap. He followed the group down a rocky slope to see marks that villagers say settlers left last month: "Death to Arabs" and "Revenge" spray-painted in Hebrew on boulders and several uprooted olive trees, their stems severed from clumps of dirt. This year's student program also includes a tour of the flashpoint West Bank city of Hebron, a visit to an Israeli military court that prosecutes Palestinians and a meeting with an activist from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The program is run by T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, a U.S.-based network of rabbis and cantors. Most of T'ruah's membership, and all students in the Israel program are affiliated with the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements – liberal streams of Judaism that represent the majority of American Jews. These movements are marginalized in Israel, where rabbis from the stricter Orthodox stream dominate religious life. The T'ruah program, now in its seventh year, is meant to supplement students' standard curricular fare: Hebrew courses, religious text study, field trips and introductions to Jewish Israeli society. Though the program is optional, T'ruah says some 70% of the visiting American rabbinical students from the liberal branches of Judaism choose to participate. The yearlong program is split into one semester, focused on Israel's so-called "occupation" of the West Bank, and another, on alleged human rights abuses inside Israel. T'ruah claims its West Bank encounters aren't one-off acts of community service but experiences meant to be carried home and disseminated to future congregations. "We want to propel them to action, so they invite their future rabbinates to work toward ending the occupation," said Rabbi Ian Chesir-Teran, T'ruah's rabbinic educator in Israel. The group began its trip in the most Jewish of ways, a discussion about the weekly Torah portion that turned into a spirited debate about the Ten Commandments. "The Torah says don't covet your neighbor's fields, and we're going to a Palestinian village whose private land has been confiscated for the sake of covetous Jews building settlements," Chesir-Teran said. Dratch said he came of age in Pennsylvania during the violent years of the second Palestinian uprising in the early 2000s. "My religious education was steeped in fear of Palestinians," he said. But in college, Dratch's ideas about Israel changed. Dratch says he still supports Israel, while opposing its policies in the West Bank. "I realized I could be Zionist without turning my back on my neighbor, on Palestinians," he said. With hundreds of young American rabbis sharing such sentiments, some in Israel find the trend alarming. "I worry about a passion for social justice becoming co-opted by far-left politics among future American Jewish leaders," said Yossi Klein Halevi, a senior fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, a Jewish research center in Jerusalem. "Future rabbis are marginalizing themselves from the overwhelming majority of Israeli Jews." Dratch said that while his time in Israel has provided him with plenty of reasons to despair, he still harbors hope for change. "We'll be sharing these stories to give people a full picture of what it means to care about this place," he said.

Farrakhan Tells Omar: `Sweetheart, Don't Apologize'; Gets Huge Applause

By United with Israel

"Sweetheart, don't do that," Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan stated, urging Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar not to apologize for her anti-Semitic comments and to "shake up that corrupt House." He was roundly applauded. In an address to his movement's Saviors' Day conference in Chicago on Sunday, Farrakhan encouraged Omar to stand by her anti-Semitic comments and not to apologize. Omar, an advocate for the BDS, has made several racist remarks over the years, mixing anti-Israel propaganda with anti-Semitic tropes. Last week, she explicitly stated that AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel lobby group in Washington, was paying off American politicians to support the Jewish State. Farrakhan has a long history of anti-Semitism and incitement against Jews. Most recently, he referred to Jews as "termites." Omar is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser in Los Angeles in March for the Hamas-linked Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), according to a report in the Daily Caller. Earlier this month, she called to completely defund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, tweeting: "#Not1Dollar for DHS." "You have nothing to apologize for. Israel and AIPAC pays off senators and congressmen to do their bidding. So you're not lying. So stop laying down. You were sent there to Shake up that corrupt House," Farrakhan declared. Indeed, Omar could be trying to "shake up" the House," as she recently urged her followers to defund the Department of Homeland Security, tweeting, "#Not1Dollar for DHS."

Israel's Oldest Kindergartener

By YnetNews
Yosef Eshed fought with British officer Orde Wingate during the 1936 Arab revolt and established Kibbutz Hanita; so at 102 he was a little surprised to receive a letter asking his parents to enroll him in kindergarten — but he doesn't mind going 'if they insist!' Eshed was amused when he received the letter from the regional council asking him to enroll in kindergarten. "Are they crazy?" Eshed said. "Well, if they insist, I don't mind! It's been a few years since I've attended kindergarten, and that was in Poland." Eshed came to Israel from Poland in 1936. He was part of the group that established Kibbutz Hanita by the border with Lebanon, and one of the last surviving veterans of Captain Orde Wingate's Special Night Squads, that was comprised of British infantry soldiers and men from the Jewish Supernumerary Police ( also called Hanotrim/the Guards), established in 1938. Wingate was a British officer, as well as a devout Christian and Zionist who was deeply enthusiastic about the Bible and Judaism. He was referred to as "the friend" because of his help and support for Jewish Yishuv, the name given to the Jewish entity in Palestine that predated the State of Israel. Wingate trained the Guards and taught them basic military techniques like operating an ambush, going on surprise attacks, moving in small squads and observing secrecy. Eshed told Ynet he participated in several operations to secure oil pipes: "We staged ambushes and attacked squads that tried to hurt the pipe. The IDF still uses the techniques we used back then." Years have passed, Eshed had three children, two of whom passed away from cancer. He has two grandchildren from his daughter and he lives by her side in Motza, a small community west of Jerusalem. He's clear and healthy at his advanced age and moves about independently using a walker. Asked about the amusing mistake, the regional council found the source of the invitation was a computer error. The program erased the figure "1" from Eshed's age — leaving it at 02 — just the right age to start attending kindergarten. The regional council quickly realized they issued 19 more such letters for elderly residents, all aged over 100 years, and rushed to locate the letters before they made it to their destination. The regional council's education supervisor, Niv Bar-Guy apologized for the mistake. "We wish Mr. Eshed long happy years," he said. "We would be honored to host him in our schools so he can tell children his amazing life story."

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