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writing for godot

Inside Poland-Israel Diplomatic War

Written by derek monroe   
Thursday, 16 August 2018 07:36
Derek Monroe reporting from Poland
On Jan 27th, 2018, the 73th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi Germany Death Camp in Auschwitz, the Israeli Ambassador to Poland , Anna Azari has given a speech which caused the biggest diplomatic earthquake in Poland's foreign relations since becoming a democracy in 1989. In the speech delivered before the Polish PM Morawiecki and surviving victims of the death camp,  Azari expressed Israel Government's anger at the recently passed "Polish Death Camps" law stating that Israel rejects it.
Anna Azari speech 55:40
Few days later the Ambassador Azari apologized for the very tone of her appearance stating that she had a completely different speech prepared for the occasion however the directive for the substitute speech came directly from the PM Netanyahu and she simply had to follow the instructions given to her.
The incident caused a considerable anger in Polish society and within the ruling right wing PiS "Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc" (Law and Justice) Party.  There were many voices calling for recalling of the ambassador and even for break in diplomatic relations.The  indignation has swooped over the land reinforcing the old and tired stereotype of Poles as "anti-Semites."
The catalyst of the crisis was the amendment of Polish law regarding Institute of National Memory's Commission of Prosecution of Crimes against Polish Nation ,the  (IPN) passed on Jan 26th, 2018. It has taken a very aggressive and controversial legal view of any attempt to link any Nazi Germany's crimes to the Polish nation. The passed amendment was unprecedented in modern European legislative history as it ultimately penalizes the freedom of speech while leaving it intact for purely academic and artistic pursuits which were characterized as exempt from legal enforcement. It also violated the EU's own laws making it effectively unenforceable as both criminal and civil statues are simply unenforceable. In addition any legal judgment could be easily overturned on appeal as the law itself is currently pending review by Poland's constitutional court.  The PiS has used the law to gain political mileage from its largely nationalistic electorate while creating an image of country "finally getting off its knees." This came as result of Poland's image being slandered by numerous media outlets and politicians worldwide , including President Obama who uttered now punishable term:  the "Polish Death Camps".
The passing of the bill just a day before the anniversary speech caused a widespread outrage in Israel and caught Polish Government completely unaware of Israeli backlash. The PiS claimed it had  received absolutely no signs of concern from Israel or anyone else as the bill started its legislative journey on Aug 30, 2016 calling it a provocative political set-up by Israel. This opinion was shortly reinforced by Azari's interview with RMF Radio in which she stated she attempted to warn the Polish PM about her government's position before the Auschwitz event but was unsuccessful reaching him.  Actually the PiS has lied on the occasion of the backlash. The US State Dept has issued a warning against the law on at least on one occasion in 2017 and met with the officials of the Polish Foreign Ministry (MSZ) to discuss it. Incidentally the MSZ had its own criticism of it  before it was drafted and submitted to Sejm, the Polish parliament in 2016.
The controversy was a result of PiS' own efforts in shaping the historical narrative banking on extreme nationalism to reinforce its electoral base and polling numbers. Historically, the era of post-1945 Communist government installation by the Soviets has been used as base of the PiS attempts to draft its own legitimacy  as "true Polish rule."   The anti-Soviet and the anti-Communist underground has been given the ethos of national saviors despite long and documented history of crimes committed by the newly found "heroes" of the so-called "Zolnierze Wykleci"-'Outcast Soldiers" group. On the international stage the PiS has been a strong proponent of NATO and the US military presence while vilifying Germany's economic and political positions in the EU as continuation of its imperial politics of the past. The conflict with the EU on many levels, including the allegations of violation of Polish constitution, has earned Poland a nickname of "Europe's Trojan Horse," hinting an excessive influence of US politics in formulation of Poland's political objectives.  As result,  the Polish political agendas are often regarded as attempts to undermine the unity of the 28 member block.
The apex of the PiS anti-German hysteria reached its limit in summer 2017. The PiS Party boss, Jaroslaw Kaczynski , widely perceived as the country's most important decision maker, has announced Poland will seek reparations from Germany for the World War 2.  This turn of events startled even the most veteran observers of Polish political scene, considering PiS populist move as complete waste of time that will only bring Poland a negative image abroad. In the same time the hysteria over the "Polish Death Camps" label had reached its zenith with  caravans of Polish cars and vans towing billboards dispatched all over the EU in order to show Poland's innocence in the Holocaust.
Right before the January 2018 Auschwitz liberation anniversary, the Polish Govt decided to go on the offensive in its PR front against usage of the term: the "Polish Death Camps." The perceived backstabbing by Israel has been given a wider, financial context  reinforcing old and tired stereotype of a "greedy Jew.":
"Everybody will tell you privately that at the end of the day the Polish-Israel diplomatic conflict is about money and not principled issues of freedom of speech," said one PiS official who would only speak frankly if his/her identity was protected. "Israel is very angry that we have started a motion of claiming reparations from Germany while in their eyes the 6 million lives lost included Polish citizens of the Jewish faith. It appears Germany has addressed the issues of wartime reparations with Israel that included the Polish Jews so PiS bringing the claim out forward breached the German-Israeli agreement. Unfortunately for them nobody asked us about our citizens that perished in the war so our demands now seem to breach their agreement,"-" the source told the             .
Furthermore the issue of reparations, this time from Israel toward Poland has resurfaced in a public  sphere driven in part by the sense of victimhood that still  characterizes Polish-Jewish relations after the war. While all capitalist-owned properties including Jewish  had been nationalized by the  Communist Govt's "Bierut Decree"  in 1952, the court ruling in a newly democratic Poland opened the new Pandora's box  of re-privatization claims. The ruling even disregarded the status of properties as destroyed and abandoned in 1945 making the local governments in Poland liable for all that came after.
As result the wave of  re-privatizations that swept the country in the past 20 years produced a cottage industry of lawyers and consultants who utilized existing laws and corrupt political system to take the property back for the often non-existent heirs or their descendants for literally pennies on the dollar. The  procedure of  transfer of real-estate, often Jewish , included properties that were destroyed thus non-existent by the time of war's end in 1945. The transfer included the property renters and tenants who were caught completely unaware of their  new status as squatters and who in many cases lived in their buildings since the 1950s. This created a huge problem , especially in Warsaw where over 40,000 people were thrown out of their apartments including the anti-reprivatization activist Jolanta Brzeska who was kidnapped and then burned alive as warning to others in 2011. The neoliberal Warsaw government ruled her death a suicide and refused to perform any proper investigation.
The  PiS has vowed to stop the process of the "thieving re-privatization" as one of its electoral promises that helped it win elections in 2015. Currently the narrative of the backlash being led by many descendants of Jewish owners with political clout has created an atmosphere of present danger to sovereignty of Poland. This mindset is reinforced by President Trump signing of Act S. 447/1226 on 5/11/2017 widely perceived as drafted and pushed through by Israeli Lobby in the US. The Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Acts of 2017, applies to Holocaust Era assets, which were “wrongfully seized or transferred” during the war or in the postwar period of Communist rule. It retroactively violates not only an international law but many country's domestic laws in regards of disposition of abandoned property and most importantly in case of Poland, the bilateral treaty signed by Poland and US in 1960 that regulates the issues of international claims between these two countries. Israel is widely perceived as major beneficiary of it as it can simply put pressure on US state dept to "Americanize"  the issue of bilateral claims while automatically putting the idea of its claims, however extravagant, within jurisprudence of US legal and political system. For many in Poland , the signing of the act was a literal stub in the back by the US despite Poland being its most important ally and the biggest host of the US military installations and troops in Eastern Europe.
The Polish-Israel conflict has also played a major role in Israel's own electoral process as ammunition for the right wing. Jair Lapid, a strongest contender to Netanyahu's rule has tried to prove his right wing credentials in the ensuing controversy over the Polish Death Camp "law" by calling the Poles responsible with the Germans for murdering his grandmother. The agitated atmosphere also led to aggressive set of questioning by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman  of the PM Morawiecki during the Munich Security Conference in Feb 2018.  While using personal drama to accentuate his questions, Bergman misrepresented his personal story.   He claimed his 5 year old grandmother received an award from Polish Minister of Education for his mother's acumen in Polish to further the idea of "perfidy of Polish national complicity in Holocaust."
Morawiecki's response mentioning all perpetrators of the Holocaust in the one sentence , including other Jews, has lead to hysterical and xenophobic uproar in Israel, calling for break up of diplomatic relations and branding Poland responsible for it.  As result Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv has been attacked and vandalized by the  "unknown" suspects while the resulting police investigation went nowhere. As of today no perpetrators have been apprehended leading many in Poland to conclude that the attack is not going to be solved for lack of political will or perhaps even Israeli government's complicity in it.
The ensuing media attack against Poland  was not limited only to Israel. The Boston-based Ruderman Family  Foundation  went viral with its youtube video : the  "Polish Holocaust"  blaming Poland for 6 million Jewish deaths and calling for break off of US-Poland diplomatic relations.
This has represented an escalation of the long going efforts to propagandize US public opinion to a view of history that would put Poland on the same page with Nazi allies such as Italy,  Vichy, Slovakia and Hungary that actually fought the war on side of Germany. The  FBI director James Comey also contributed his remarks condemning Poland during the Holocaust Musem in Washington DC National Tribute Dinner, in 2015 while the right wing firebrand Glenn Beck also reiterated the point comparing Poles and Palestinians to Nazis bent on eradicating Jews. The anonymous PiS politician stated:
"In the Polish view, the current escalation of tensions over the responsibility for the Holocaust leads to pressure to admit complicity and guilt to be followed up with demands for compensation. We have seen similar action taken in Switzerland that resulted ,rightly so , in  legal action against the banks there to compensate Israel for funds that were collected and never paid to the Holocaust survivors or their heirs. Right now there is a feeling that something similar is happening in Poland with the only difference is that we were victims of the genocide as well as the Jews but now we are being blamed for it. In  attacking Poland the Israel is reinforcing all the negative stereotypes as it appears that nothing is off limits for these who want to benefit themselves either politically, economically or otherwise. It is nothing but shameful."
On 6/27 , 2018 The Polish PM Morawiecki caving to international pressure from many sides , including the US,  amended the law making it effectively toothless. Israel and Poland both issued declarations condemning any attempt to manipulate the responsibility for Holocaust while the Polish Right officially acknowledged the whole affair as failure and defeat on international arena.
Anna Azari speech 55:40.
ags: Anna Azari, Benyamin Netanyahu, Poland, Israel, Polish-Israeli War, Re-privatization, PiS, Kaczynski, Morawiecki, Polish Death Camps, S. 447/1226, Trump, Holocaust Museum, James Comey, Ruderman Family Foundation your social media marketing partner
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