Monday, August 07, 2006

Israel – Lebanon war: a chance for Poland to polish its image


What is a tragic, destabilizing war for the Middle East is giving countries like Poland a chance to look good on the international stage.

Poland has been trying to position itself for a few years now as ‘Israel’s best friend in Europe’.

It’s an image that fits with its close relations with the US and it also sends the message that Poland is not the home anymore of 1930s style anti-Semitic prejudices.

Jewish children from Naharyia in northern Israel, an area frequently shelled by Hezbollah’s low-tech ‘fire and hope’ artillery, have just arrived in Lodz for a couple of weeks holiday.

Poland is promising to be a member of the multinational force that will go into southern Lebanon just as soon as a UN resolution to the liking of the important players is ready and a ceasefire can be arranged.

Poland already has 200 troops in Lebanon as part of the peacekeeping force placed there after Israel was forced out by Hezbollah in 2000.

When the EU tried to write a united statement about the conflict last week it was Britain backed by Poland, Czech Republic, Denmark and Germany that managed to water down the resolution to stay in line with thinking in Washington.

There is only one problem with Poland’s desire to show the world - Israel - that Poland is not a land full of people who still think they are living in the 1930s.

Israel was horrified that the League of Polish Families (LPR) and Self defense parties joined the governing coalition a few months ago.

When leader of LPR, Roman Giertych was appointed Education Secretary leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote under the headline, A Polish minister with an anti-Semitic past:

His father, Prof. Maciej Giertych, a member of the European Parliament, recently sparked a storm during its session marking 70 years since the Spanish Civil War; he called Francesco Franco one of the most brilliant leaders of the 20th century.

In another incident, Ryszard Bender, a senator from Giertych's party said that Auschwitz was not a death camp, but rather a labor camp, and everyone there - Jews, Gypsies and others - had to work hard but at least had something to eat.

Giertych responded:

"I like the Jewish people and I don't understand why they don't like me."

He also admitted to the Jerusalem Post that his recent visit to Jedwabne - the scene of a Jewish pogrom in 1941 - had confused many of his supporters and 'was one of the most difficult decisions of my life'.

Such are the efforts of Polish politicians from all parts of the spectrum to appear pro-Israel that some of them are willing to piss off some of their core supporters, who do still think they are living in the 1930s.

It’s simply one of the most important parts of Poland’s image abroad.

So the war with Lebanon is a chance to further reinforce the view that Poland is 'Israel’s best friend in Europe'.

But as with most Western intervention in the region over the past century I don’t think Poland’s involvement is going to do much good for the people of Israel and Lebanon. The war is being used by western governments to look good abroad when they find it difficult to appear so fantastic at home.

More?
Israel anger over Polish minister BBC July 10
New Polish Coalition Jeopardizes Israeli Cooperation on Holocaust Education, AP July 9
Israeli ambassador criticized for meddling in Poland's affairs, ArabNews.com July 10

26 comments:

sonia said...

Beatroot,

Rarely have you been so wrong on some many different points!

1. You imply that Giertych is anti-semitic, but then you quote HIS FATHER and a senator from his party. Joe McCarty would be pround of you. Guilt by association. Very lame.

2. Giertych's father didn't even praise Hitler, only Franco. Franco never persecuted any Jews (he only pwersecuted Stalinist murderers denounced in Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and Ken Loach's Land and Freedom). Franco was far from being one of the 'most brilliant leaders of the 20th century', but he wasn't a mass murderer like Stalin from whose dictatorship he has saved Spain...

3. Senator Bender's statement is technically correct since the death camp (with gas chambers and the crematorias) was located in Birkenau (of which only ruins remain), not in the preserved Auschwitz I camp that everybody visits...

4.efforts of Polish politicians... to appear pro-Israel.... It’s simply one of the most important parts of Poland’s image abroad

Are you kidding ??????????????? Defending Israel is the most difficult thing these days and it doesn't improve your image abroad. To the contrary. From Johannesburg to Cairo to Tehran to Madrid to Rome to Moscow to Beijing to Delhi to Jakarta to Caracas to Rio de Janeiro, Israel is about as popular as South Africa used to be in 1990. Washington, London and Warsaw are just about the only places on Earth were Israel isn't described as a facist apartheid state....

So by defending Israel, Poland isn't making any friends around the world. To the contrary.

beatroot said...

Sonia: let’s try and stick to what is in the post and avoid your rabid imagination just for a second or two.

The post is referring to the Haaretz article with the headline A Polish minister with an anti-Semitic past: The past it is referring to is the long line of nationalists and anti-Semites in his family. The Israeli article then talks about his father, which I quote from. Norman Davies has called the Dmowski nationalists ‘professional anti-Semites.

Franco praised Hitler often.

Bender's statement is technically correct since the death camp (with gas chambers and the crematorias) was located in Birkenau (of which only ruins remain), not in the preserved Auschwitz I camp that everybody visits...

Am I (and the Israelis) meant to take that nonsense seriously? Technically correct? My arse!

Appearing pro-Israel is a core part of Poland’s foreign policy and has been over different governments since 1989. They are doing that to dispel any lingering doubt that the country hasn’t changed since the 1930s.

Unfortunately they have ministers in the government who still think it is the 1930s.

That is what the Israeli press is saying and why the Israeli government has refused to meet with Giertych as Education Minister.

steppx said...

Giertych is, of course, anti semitic. Duh.
The pro-Israeli stance is likely about business....as in US business, as much as it is about history.
Poland under the previous administration was cravenly pro american....and now, under the potato twins, seems simply isolationist (with a lust for corporate money anyway)> Actually, making sense of the new administration is quite difficult.

The likes of Giertych make it seem frothingly reactionary --- a sort of medieval catholocism that smackes of anti semitism and vatican style morality.

This debate is actually full of ironies and contradiction....The Israeli war juggernaut....under former Likudniks...meets the right wing nationalists of poland...the catholic far right ( which has open ties to openly anti semitic organizations) meets Zionist fundamentalist settlers (driving much of Israeli policy)....the apologists for Franco (fascist but catholic) meet the new apartheid state...now in the midst of what is mostly a annexation of Lebanon...

Geez....
hard to tell the players without a scorecard. And hard to like anyone.

Gustav said...

Please let's not forget that Giertych also re-founded the All-Polish Youth, a nice little anti-Semetic outfit.

However, I do take to heart Sonia's point about how supporting Israel doesn't exactly win you points around the world. Showing everybody else that Poland isn't anti-Semetic anymore is all well and good, but by supporting Israeli policy is that what Poland is doing? Or is it just reinforcing its image as the US' second-fiddle poodle?

georgesdelatour said...

I still think the one refreshing thing is that, at least in modern Poland, antisemitism is now clearly associated with right-wing social conservatism. In the UK the most virulent Judenhass comes from people who claim to be progressives.

beatroot said...

But Poland wants to polish its image with a foreign policy that is attached to the US. In the long run that is what it has decided is in its interest to do.

Stepxx – You say that the Poland-US thing is ‘business. I am surprised, my Frankfurter friend at your economic reductionism.

At the Foreign Ministry, no matter what the government, Israel is ‘special’. Has been since 1989. And to understand that you have to understand the Cold War period when communists governments sided with the Arabs, and the US with Israel. That led to the disgusting 1968 commie sponsored anti-Semitism etc.

So when Poladn got rid of communism, the Soviet empire crumbled and the Cold War ended, Poland’s relationship – or attempted relationship (Israel is not too sure about it) is a symbol of the New Poland, free from its Cold war past.

Israel is special. This war gives Poland the chance to show that it is its ‘best friend in Europe’.

steppx said...

beat.....your quite right that Im being reductive.

But i still think there are strange contradictions in all this. But then, as i said, this adminstration is nothing if not incoherent and contradictory...and I would still maintain, albeit in a more nuanced way, that business lurks in the shadows (those promised weaponry deals that didnt happen after the start of the Iraq invasion, etc).

polishpenguin said...

Beat,

"This war gives Poland the chance to show that it is its ‘best friend in Europe"

What's that going to give them? They're trying to ally with the U.S. but what has that got them? Hardly any economic help, and still no visa help, in fact, it's becoming worse for people from Poland to enter the U.S. since Homeland Security was formed.

Just because they're going to ally with Israel because it's going to make them look good, is a poor excuse. I don't think people look at Poland like they were in the 1930s. Heck, look what happened last year in France with Africian immigrants. There's a lot more anti-semetic junk going on in other parts of Europe than it is in Poland. If you're going to be a "friend" to Israel, then you're going to be an enemy to the rest of the world.

beatroot said...

What I said in the comments above is chapter and verse what I have been told over and over again by Foreign Ministry people.

Israel is special.

sonia said...

Those 'Foreign Ministry people' seems to be still living in 1946, when Jews were the darlings of the International Left. Times have changed.

beatroot said...

I think you are missing the point, Sonia.

Romerican said...

Or perhaps not.

beatroot said...

I refer you to comment number 6. That is why Israel is important to Poland and its image. It's official policy what I am telling you.

polishpenguin said...

To make themselves look good? Honestly, does Israel or anyone else really care if Poland wants to make themselves look good? Why would they want to polish their image when they were run by soviet communists for all those years? If the rest of the world can't understand that this wasn't the idealogy of the real Poland, then Israel and the rest of the world needs to learn what Poland really stands for. (And stood for, for that matter)

beatroot said...

When you are a country like Poland, coming out of a history that it has had (and when it has been the victim of racism far more often than it has been the perpetrator of it) then foreign policy is one way of renewing itself and drawing a line with the past.

It is doing that with its close alliance with the US (because it has no ability to defend itself and like the UK it knows that to have any influence it thinks it must do it through the US) and trying to make ties with Israel.

Israel does not have fantastic diplomatic relations with many countries in Europe so Poland is trying to find a role for itself diplomatically by being ‘Israel’s best friend in Europe’.

It’s also drawing a line between the foreign policy of the Cold War period with now.

Eugene said...

Poland, along with the Czech Republic, have improved bilateral relations with Israel very sincerely in terms of politics (though more refinement is needed in this area due to Israel's shunning of Giertych and Lepper), student dialogue and exchange, religious issues and sensitivity, investment, and imports / exports. These positive developments can serve as an encouraging model for the Jewish diaspora in other countries (USA, etc) and it's relations with Poland and Poles.

sonia said...

I think you are missing the point, Sonia.

Now, Beatroot, YOU are missing the point. Tolerance has to be voluntary to have any meaning. Nobody should be rewarded for claiming to be tolerant or for claiming to love Jews. People who pretend to be tolerant to 'look good' in front of Western elites, or to get money from Brussels, are not tolerant at all. If you are willing to settle for such a hypocritical charade, be my guest. But I won't. I much prefer an HONEST anti-semite than a dishonest, hypocritical asshole who pretends to be tolerant, but really isn't.

beatroot said...

Sonia: I much prefer an HONEST anti-semite than a dishonest, hypocritical asshole who pretends to be tolerant, but really isn't.

Who is the asshole? I am not following your last comment with what has gone before at al...

Observer said...

Nathan Sharansky proposes a 3-D test for determining if a subject is anti-semitic : Demonization, Double-standards, Delegitimation.

Double standards from Wikipedia:

"for thousands of years a clear sign of anti-Semitism was treating Jews differently than other peoples, from the discriminatory laws many nations enacted against them to the tendency to judge their behavior by a different yardstick. Similarly, today we must ask whether criticism of Israel is being applied selectively ... It is anti-Semitism, for instance, when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while tried and true abusers like China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria are ignored ... "

Collecting the media information about Poland today and in the past, one can get an impression that Poland has been and is an extremely Anti-Semitic country, especially when compared to other European nations.

I am curious, to what extend is Poland being measured by the same yardstick as other countries and how does Poland compare to the neighbours:

- How does pre-partitions Poland compare to other European countries?

- How does pre-war Poland compare in terms of treatment of the Jews to other countries? are there at all countries that it can be compared to at all, i.e. countries that would have a similar percentage of Jewish population, such that Jews constitute a real minority? Perhaps USA, Russia, Ukraine, Germany only - what does the comparison look like - but how does the comparison look to UK, France, Germany, etc?

- How does WWII Poland compare to other WWII-involved countries in terms of contributing to Jews' fat (be it Germany commiting the crime, or Sweden, Denmark, Norway commiting industry or soldiers, or collaborative French government organizing the transports to Aushwitz) and helping Jews (indicate other countries help effort)?

- Current day events? For example, we can look here for the anti-semitic events for last 30 days worldwide

http://www.antisemitism.org.il/frontend/english/ForumReport.asp

Yes, Poland is mentioned. A statue was erected in Kielce ... of course this is too small a sample to draw conclusions, but how does it really compare in terms of anti-semitic events?

Having that comparison to other countries, is it then fair to say that Poland does stand out as an Anti-Semitic nation or not? And if that assumption is not true, then an example of what is the loud noise of Polish anti-semitism?

Regardless of what the answer is, getting involved in a war to 'improve the image of a country' makes war sound like a sports event.

sonia said...

Beatroot,

I am not following your last comment with what has gone before at all

It's simple:

You say that the Polish government is trying to improve its image abroad by posing as 'Israel's best friend' in order to please the American government (and presumably expecting some rewards for it)...

My last point was simply that if pro-semitic attitudes really are rewarded, then they are most likely insincere. You cannot 'buy' friendship...

Renegade Eye said...

What's so good about tolerance?
In Civil Rights 101, you learn it means you can endure, not necessarily respect something as, "I can tolerate nudists", or "I can tolerate Jews".

I'm sure the Polish populists can tolerate Zionists.

Supporting Israel as a means to improve your image in the world, seems desperate.

beatroot said...

Aaaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Observed said...

Defining anti-Semitism in terms of "singling out" Israel for criticism is dangerous. If I write an article critical of Israeli foreign policy do I have to go on about Cuba, Burma etc etc as well in order to avoid being labelled an anti-Semite? What if I want to concentrate on one country? What if I simply don't have the space or the expertise to delve into human rights abuses in Belarus half way through an article on Israel?

sonia said...

Observed,

Criticizing Israel (or even Jews) is not anti-semitism (at least I hope it isn't - I've done it many times). But anybody who backs Arab religious fundamentalist terrorists against democratically-elected Israeli government HAS TO BE an anti-semite...

Mind you, when Israel is fighting against a democratically-elected Lebanese government in Beirut (as they are doing right now), I seriously re-examine my support. But when they turn their guns against Hezbollah religious fantatics, I am definitely on their side...

georgesdelatour said...

I've been talking to my friend Chris, who's Jewish/Welsh, and who's now settled in Krakow running a Jewish museum. He's very defensive of Poland's record during WW2. He was telling me about research which showed that, on average, it took the efforts of at least six Polish families to shelter and hide a single Jew for that person to survive the German occupation. If one of those six Polish families didn't fancy the risk, or was anti-Semitic, or was simply careless, the individual would not survive.

People like the Pole-phobic Claude Lanzmann always start from the assumption that the Nazi occupation of Poland was broadly comparable to the Nazi occupation of France. It wasn't.

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