Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The pleasure of spitting in the face of the Polish people

Swearing-in ceremony of President Reuven Rivlin of Israel – By Government Press Office (Israel) לשכת העיתונות הממשלתית של ישראל Photo by Kobi Gideon / GPO – spokesperson unit of president of Israel דוברות בית הנשיא, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Just how many times have I seen it? First there appears a disgusting statement from one or other politician in Israel. Then a wave of outrage rises in Poland, but later, as is the case with emotions, it slowly subsides. And finally, we return to what is called business as usual.


By Paweł Lisicki

All right then. Maybe something is changing: we are dealing with statements from ever higher-ranking politicians. And, let’s face it, they are becoming more and more impudent.

The former President of Israel Reuven Rivlin is a case in point. During a visit to Cracow last January, at a press conference on anti-Semitism, Mr. Rivlin asserted: “With all due respect, we were butchered here also by the Polish people.” And he added: “And those are facts that we are not going to ignore. We have to educate the people to let them understand what happened in the Shoah, to let them understand what happened to their people, and we will [then] understand what happened to our people.

Later in the interview President Rivlin related his meeting with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda: “In Polish I said to Duda, ‘Please don’t ignore the past, you have to learn what happened in the past, saying that nothing happened, that we were both the victims, is not correct, and in order to avoid and to understand what the words “never again” are, you have first of all to remember what happened at the time. We said, “Never again” and the Polish have to know.’

Dishonoring, scandalous and patronizing advice. Yet there are a few things that need pointing out. Firstly, these are not the only such statements that Rivlin has made. In April 2018 he said: “The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler . . . It is not for nothing that we call the extermination camps the extermination camps of the Nazis and their collaborators. There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination [of Jews].

Strong, is it not? The “country of Poland” “allowed” all this? Poland collaborated in the extermination of Jews?

A Polish volunteer in Auschwitz: the only such case in history (interview)

Secondly, Mr. Rivlin is unable to understand that no one contributes more to fostering anti-Semitism than he himself with his disgusting statements. Liars provoke anger and revulsion. And if he is cast in this role, then he has to reckon with the negative feelings he arouses. In this whole statement we can observe what I believe is the true heart of the problem, namely the belief in the exclusivity of both Jews themselves and of their suffering. In fact, according to Rivlin we must not say that “both our peoples were victims.

Such an attitude leads to really dramatic consequences, since it produces the conviction that Jews can get away with more and they do not have to be guided by universal rules of morality, because they are distinguished and stand apart. They can always speak from the position of the only righteous party. The tribal bond prevails over general principles. They want to judge everybody using one criterion only, namely anti-Semitism, while failing to ask if they themselves do not contribute to it with their conduct.

But why does Rivlin get away with such chutzpah? Why did he attack Poland while Israel is carrying out a military operation considered genocidal by many? After all, theoretically, he should be interested in convincing people to take at least a neutral stance on these actions. And he would be, if he had any need to try. The answer to the question of why Israel behaves as it does is easy: because it can.

First of all, the country has succeeded in producing a situation in which the moral evil of anti-Semitism is treated as somehow worse and larger than other forms of racism. Spiritual and political leaders call people to the fight against all manifestations of anti-Semitism. None of them, no spiritual leader or opinion leader, has ever equated it with the evil of anti-Polonism, for instance.

The Ulmas – a family of Polish heroes murdered for helping Jews (interview)

Then Israel simply makes use of its political strength. It knows very well that with US support it can get away with more than any other country. As Antony Blinken has recently admitted, the United States exists to serve Israel’s policy. From this perspective it does not much matter if the Democrats or the Republicans are in power in Washington: in both cases the largest campaign sponsors are representatives of the group which John Mearsheimer long ago described as the ‘Israel lobby.’

That is why Mr. Rivlin can carry off what he does, with no need to worry about anything. And unfortunately he is right. On the very same day that Polish media broke the news of the scandalous words of the former Israeli president, Poland’s foreign minister Radosław Sikorski announced that in the case of the Gaza Strip there was no question of genocide. A beautiful declaration of something the same minister once rightly called ‘negritude.’

This opinion piece was first published in Polish as the editor’s column in the Do Rzeczy weekly in February 2024.