The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

Fighting with Poland over Holocaust restitution is not in Israel’s national interest.

Antisemitism is a phenomenon at least two thousand years old. Antisemitic pamphlets appeared in the Roman empire before the crucifixion of Jesus – an event that molded the attitudes of Christian generations towards Jews from antiquity to modern times. Even countries with no Jewish communities or a Biblical cultural heritage such as Japan or China have antisemitic incidents.

Such deeply rooted cultural tendencies are not related to what Jews are or how they behave. Antisemitism is a social disease that plagues the gentile world.

The Jewish state, which is concerned about the destiny of Jews wherever they are due to fraternal-ethnic bonds, is sensitive to displays of antisemitism around the world and has played a central role in the effort to fight this phenomenon.

Yet, antisemitism should not be Israel’s main business. Israel is a small country with limited resources. The aspiration to cure the gentile world of a chronic disease is highly presumptuous and hardly an achievable goal. While it has to protest, small Israel cannot change the world. Most of the world is deaf to Israel’s moral pleas.

Moreover, it is the moral duty of non-Jews to cure themselves of this scourge. It is to the shame of European countries that in the 21st century a Jew cannot wear a kippah or a Magen David in the streets of Brussels or Paris without being harassed. This malady is unfortunately evident also in New York.

Hannah Arendt pointed out that antisemitism is an early sign of totalitarian impulses on the Left and on the Right. Therefore, enlightened Gentiles – there are many of them – should be at the forefront of combating antisemitism. The onus of responsibility for fighting prejudice against Jews should not be on Israel or on Jewish organizations. Gentiles should fund the efforts to improve the moral quality of their societies.

Many Jews make a living by serving in organizations devoted to anti-defamation of Jews. This is a waste of Jewish money in a Sisyphean colossal task of getting rid of long-held pathological cultural traditions. Is there any evidence that these organizations have managed to lower the level of antisemitism in their countries? Did the persistent efforts of Jewish agencies dealing with antisemitism yield any positive results? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is negative. Such organizations should probably be dismantled, and their resources should be put at better use – into Jewish education for example.

Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, should listen to the concerns of the Diaspora, but carry out a foreign policy based upon raison d’état considerations. Antisemitism is a secondary consideration that should be subordinated to state interests. Israel can and should benefit from doing business with leaders of political entities that are not paragons of virtue. Jewish survival over the generations is partly a result of this insight.

The current crisis with Poland is a good example of Israel’s foreign policy going astray due to an exaggerated response to perceived antisemitism. The anti-restitution law passed by Poland is problematic and probably stems also from Polish antisemitism. Yet, it was passed by a democratically elected government and is an internal affair of a sovereign state.

While American officials, as well as international organizations, joined Israel in condemning that legislation, Jerusalem’s official response was harmful to Israel’s national interests. Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, decided to downgrade Israeli diplomatic representation in Warsaw, and added: “Gone are the days when Poles harmed Jews without consequence. Today, Jews have a proud and strong country of their own… We do not fear antisemitic threats and have no intention of turning a blind eye to the shameful conduct of the anti-democratic Polish government.” These types of condescending statements of a “proud” Jew are morally wrong and politically counterproductive.

The attempt to educate 40 million Poles is a futile exercise. Poland is not going to change the legislation. The attempt to ensure “historic justice” is doomed to failure. It would be better to reach quiet understandings with the Polish government.

Moreover, Poland, an important European state and the fifth-most populous member state of the European Union, is a good friend of Israel. Poland has helped Israel withstand anti-Israeli sentiments emanating from Brussels. Poland’s voting behavior in international fora is better than most other European states. The bilateral relations are very good, including important security cooperation.

Poland, like other Eastern European countries that were within the Russian sphere of influence, understands the national security concerns of Israelis. Polish nationalists find Israeli nationalism an ally against supra-nationalist ideas trying to erase national identity.

Israel’s Don Quixotic campaign against Poland should quickly end. Jerusalem should return to a foreign policy that is not fueled by sentiments and historic memories, but by its national interests.

Published in The Jerusalem Post 20.08.2021

JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.

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