Archive for February, 2018

Israeli criticism sparks anti-Jewish remarks in Polish media

January 30, 2018

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A diplomatic dispute between Poland and Israel over pending legislation that would outlaw blaming Poland for the crimes of the Holocaust has led to an outburst of anti-Semitic comments in Poland, including some in the government-controlled media.

Poland’s lower house of parliament gave its approval Friday to the bill, which calls for penalties of up to three years in prison for anyone who “publicly and against the facts” accuses the Polish people of crimes committed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party says the law is meant to fight expressions like “Polish death camps,” to refer to the wartime camps that Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland. Poles were among those imprisoned, tortured and killed in the camps, and many today feel Poles are being unfairly depicted as perpetrators of the Holocaust.

As part of the same effort, the government launched a website on Tuesday in Polish, German and English with documentary evidence that death camps like Auschwitz were built and operated by Nazi Germany, a historically accurate account.

Germany occupied Poland in 1939, annexing part of it to Germany and directly governing the rest. Unlike other countries occupied by Germany at the time, there was no collaborationist government in Poland. The prewar Polish government and military fled into exile, except for an underground resistance army that fought the Nazis inside the country.

The Israeli government in the past has supported the campaign against the phrase “Polish death camps,” but it has strongly criticized the new legislation, which still must be approved by the Senate and President Andrzej Duda, who both support it.

Israel, along with several international Holocaust organizations and many critics in Poland, argues that the law could have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression and leading to a whitewashing of Poland’s wartime history, which also includes episodes of Poles killing Jews or denouncing them to the Germans.

Polish Holocaust and World War II scholars, as well as international organizations including Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Wiesenthal Center, are among groups who have criticized the law. Critics have said they fear the law could lead to self-censorship in academia and that the legislation — which also mentions “other crimes against peace and humanity” — is so broad that it could be used to fight any form of criticism against Poland by authorities already accused of eroding democratic standards.

In a sign of the sensitivities on both sides, Yair Lapid, head of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party and the son of a Holocaust survivor, insisted in a heated Twitter exchange with the Polish Embassy that “there were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that.” An Israeli journalist, Lahav Harkov, also wrote a tweet that consisted only of the phrase “Polish death camps” repeated 14 times.

Such Israeli remarks offended many in Poland, including many who oppose the law and any expressions of anti-Semitism in Poland. Far-right groups have called for a demonstration Wednesday in front of the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw to protest the “anti-Polish” sentiment they say is being propagated by Israel and some media.

And there has been an eruption of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish comments online and in the media, including in state media, which is tightly controlled by the right-wing ruling Law and Justice party. The director of the state-run television station TVP 2, Marcin Wolski, even went so far as to say Monday on air that the Nazi death camps should actually be called Jewish. “Who managed the crematoria there?” he asked — a reference to the fact that death camp prisoners, usually Jews, were forced to help dispose of gas chamber victims.

Wolski was joined on his show by a right-wing commentator, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, who only a day earlier had used an extremely derogatory term to refer to Jews on Twitter. The comment was later removed. And on another talk show Saturday on Polish state TV, anti-Semitic messages posted by viewers on Twitter were shown at the bottom of the screen as one participant said that a Jewish guest was “not really Polish.” The state TV director later apologized for the messages, blaming a technical glitch that caused them to go onto the screen unedited.

In another case, a Polish state radio commentator, Piotr Nisztor, suggested that Poles who support the Israeli position should consider relinquishing their citizenship. “If somebody acts as a spokesman for Israeli interests, maybe they should think about giving up their Polish citizenship and accepting Israeli citizenship,” Nisztor said in a comment carried on the radio’s official Twitter account.

Some commentators in Poland, however, expressed dismay, saying it reminded them of an official state-sponsored anti-Semitic campaign carried out by Communist authorities in 1968. “There has been a lot of hate speech against refugees and Muslims over the past two years in state media, but anti-Semitism was so far rare,” said Rafal Pankowski, who monitors anti-Semitism and other forms of extremism as head of the Never Again association. “But in the last couple of days it seems the floodgates have opened.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki agreed after speaking by phone Sunday night to try to resolve differences over the legislation by convening a group of history experts, though it was unclear how effective that will be given the strong support for the bill by the ruling Law and Justice party.

Before the outbreak of World War II, Jews had lived in Poland for centuries, thriving in some eras and even becoming the world’s largest Jewish population at one point. But anti-Semitism in the decades before the war had grown virulent, driving many Polish Jews to emigrate.

Relations between Jews and Poles had seen efforts of reconciliation since the fall of communism, but some fear the current controversy has set that back. Agnieszka Markiewicz, Central Europe director for AJC, a Jewish global advocacy group, called the language on state media “shocking.”

“It is hard to imagine that there is actually space in the Polish public sphere for such anti-Semitic language and discourse,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s unacceptable, I believe, not only for Polish Jews, but also for millions of Poles who know World War II history.”

Advertisements

France seeks closer ties with Russia despite Syria tensions

February 09, 2018

PARIS (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron discussed cooperating more closely to resolve the Syrian crisis in a phone call Friday, as France tries to smooth ties with Russia and move beyond years of tensions over Syria and Ukraine.

Macron is making his first presidential trip to Russia in May. The two leaders talked Friday about preparations for the visit, where Macron plans to attend the St. Petersburg Economic Forum and to meet with Putin.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin and Macron underlined during their call the need for developing closer cooperation on Syria. The statement did not elaborate. Macron’s office said he pushed for more robust Syrian peace talks — notably after a Russia-sponsored effort last month boycotted by the Syrian opposition.

Macron also pressed Putin to stop “intolerable degradation of the humanitarian situation” in regions of Syria that were pummeled by Syrian and Russian airstrikes in recent days, according to a statement from his office.

The presidents discussed another sore point in relations: the conflict in Ukraine. They stressed the need to enforce the 2015 Minsk peace agreement that was sponsored by France and Germany. Putin and Macron also hailed a potentially problematic project launched Friday to encourage contacts among Russian and French citizens. Called the Trianon Dialogue, the initiative appears aimed at minimizing European sanctions against Russia for its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The French-Russian project is aimed at encouraging interactions through joint theater productions, school trips, sister city agreements and real estate investments. Yet geopolitical tensions threaten to complicate the effort.

Among the Russians overseeing the Trianon Dialogue are magnate Gennady Timchenko, a longtime associate of Putin’s, and former railways chief Vladimir Yakunin — both targets of U.S. sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine. A former ambassador who is an outspoken supporter of Russia’s bombings of Syria and annexation of Crimea also is involved.

An official in Macron’s office acknowledged that “we may run into difficulties” in juggling the project’s open-arms mission with today’s East-West tensions. The official said the French side would remain “vigilant” to prevent Putin’s administration from using the event for political ends.

Macron has remained publicly committed to the European Union’s sanctions on Russia, but the Trianon Dialogue could be seen as undermining them. Aides said he pushed for the project “to encourage Franco-Russian economic relations” despite curbs on trade prompted by the sanctions and a Russian embargo.

The French members of the project’s board all are from outside politics. They include an astronaut, a ballet star, the director of the Versailles Chateau and the CEOs of oil giant Total and car-sharing company Blablacar.

Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed.

Israel bans call to prayer at Ibrahimi Mosque 49 times

February 1, 2018

Israeli occupation authorities banned the call to prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron 49 times in January.

Minister of Waqf and Religious Affairs Yousif Ideis said: “The occupation continues to violate the sanctity and religious rituals of Muslims in Palestine without fear of deterrence or condemnation.”

In a statement released today, he added: “The occupation prevented the raising of the adhan [call to prayer] in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron 49 times over the past month … launching 2018 with a number of violations of the Ibrahimi and Al-Aqsa Mosques, whose sanctity is violated every day by extremist settlers who call for its demolition.”

He called on the international community and its concerned institutions to take action to ensure the protection of the religious, historical and cultural heritage of the Ibrahimi Mosque.

Occupation forces prevent the adhan at the Ibrahimi Mosque on the grounds that it causes an “inconvenience to settlers”. Muslim worshipers are also subject intrusive searches at the electronic gates and military barriers leading up to the mosque and the old town of Hebron.

The holy site was split into a synagogue – known to Jews as the Cave of Patriarchs – and a mosque after US-born Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein massacred 29 Palestinians inside the mosque in 1994.

Muslims have since been prevented from praying in the mosque during Jewish holidays.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180201-israel-bans-call-to-prayer-at-ibrahimi-mosque-49-times/.

Israel warns Slovenia against recognizing State of Palestine

February 1, 2018

Israel warned Slovenian against recognizing the State of Palestine as planned, Quds Press reported yesterday.

According to the Israeli TV Channel 10, the Israeli Ambassador to Slovenia Eyal Sila spoke to the Speaker of the Slovenian Parliament Milan Brglez and the chair of the Foreign Policy Committee Jozef Horvat in Ljubljana to warn them against the move.

According to the TV channel, Sila told the Slovenian authorities that recognizing Palestine would have “negative consequences” on Israeli-Slovenian relations.

Slovenia’s Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday postponed a vote on a draft resolution which would be a first step towards recognition of the State of Palestine.

Sweden is currently the only country in Europe which recognizes the State of Palestine.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180201-israel-warns-slovenia-against-recognising-state-of-palestine/.

Lieberman threatens ground invasion in Lebanon

February 1, 2018

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to carry out ground invasion in Lebanon and push Beirut residents to live in shelters, Arab48 reported yesterday.

During a speech at the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Lieberman said: “Maneuvering is not a goal in itself. The goal is to end the war.”

“No one is looking for adventures, but if we have no choice the goal is to end [the fighting] as quickly and as unequivocally as possible,” he added. “Regrettably, what we have in all the conflicts in the Middle East is that without soldiers on the ground it does not come to an end.”

“Such operations demand great effort and unfortunately casualties too. All options are open and I and not enslaved to any viewpoint,” he added. “We must prepare for maneuvering on the ground too, even if we do not use it.”

“We will do so with full strength. We must not take one step forward and one step backward. We will move forward as fast as possible,” said Lieberman.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180201-lieberman-threatens-ground-invasion-in-lebanon/.

Netanyahu inaugurates new settler-only road in occupied West Bank

January 31, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Israel Katz inaugurated a new road on Tuesday that connects illegal settlements east of the occupied West Bank city of Qalqiliya, Israeli media reported. The road, which was given the name of Nabi Elias, is for use by Jews only.

“We place a special emphasis on advancing the planning and execution of strategic transportation projects in Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank],” said Katz. He noted that this road is part of the current Israeli government’s efforts to promote transportation between settlements as well as the security and safety of Jewish settlers. He omitted the fact that the settlers and their settlements are illegal under international law.

“This road,” explained Netanyahu, “is part of the system of bypass roads that we are building throughout Judea and Samaria [the occupied West Bank] that serves the residents [settlers] of Judea and Samaria and the residents of the entire State of Israel.”

Quds Press reported Katz saying that paving the news bypass roads includes the expansion and reorganization of existing roads, and building tunnels to make connections with Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem easier.

The inauguration of this road came weeks after a pledge by Netanyahu to allocate NIS800m ($228m) for a security package as part of the 2018 budget. It will be used for settlement roads and infrastructure development. His move followed mass protests by Jewish settlers and their leaders, and confirms Israel’s status as a settler-colonial state.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180131-netanyahu-inaugurates-new-jews-only-road-in-occupied-west-bank/.

Israel says Poland agrees to talks in WWII legislation spat

January 29, 2018

JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday night that Israel and Poland have agreed to hold talks seeking to resolve the uproar over proposed Polish legislation that would outlaw blaming Poland for any crimes committed during the Holocaust.

Earlier, Israel’s Foreign Ministry had summoned a Polish envoy to express its displeasure at the bill. But Polish officials dug in their heels, saying the measure was being misinterpreted and its wording would not be changed.

Netanyahu then spoke by phone with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki late Sunday. “The two agreed that teams from the two countries would open an immediate dialogue in order to try to reach understandings regarding the legislation,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

The prime minister said at his weekly Cabinet meeting earlier Sunday that Israel has “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.” The lower house of the Polish parliament’s bill calls for prison time for referring to “Polish death camps” and criminalizes the mention of Polish complicity.

The bill still needs approval from Poland’s Senate and president. Still, it marks a dramatic step by the nationalist government to enforce its official stance that the vast majority in Poland — a country that was terrorized by Nazi Germany’s occupation — acted heroically under those conditions. Historians say many Poles collaborated with the Nazis and committed heinous crimes.

The bill has sparked outrage in Israel and suddenly raised tensions with a close European ally. Israel declared independence in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust and is home to the world’s largest community of Holocaust survivors.

On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry summoned Poland’s deputy ambassador, Piotr Kozlowski, to express Israel’s opposition to the bill. It called the timing of the bill, passed on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, “particularly surprising and unfortunate” and said it expected the draft to be amended before final approval.

“The legislation will not help further the exposure of historical truth and may harm freedom of research, as well as prevent discussion of the historical message and legacy of World War II,” a ministry statement said.

Speaking to reporters after his meeting, Kozlowski said the intent of the legislation is not to “whitewash” history. It is already a crime in Poland to deny that the Holocaust happened. “It is to safeguard it, to safeguard the truth about the Holocaust and to prevent its distortion,” he said of the proposed legislation.

Polish authorities insisted they would not give in to the Israeli demands. “We will not change any provisions in the bill,” said Beata Mazurek, spokeswoman for the ruling conservative-nationalist Law and Justice party, “We have had enough of Poland and Poles being blamed for German crimes.”

Mark Weitzman, the director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a U.S.-based group that battles anti-Semitism, called the law “an obscene whitewashing” of history. He said its wording could be used against Holocaust survivors talking about their personal experiences as well as researchers, teachers or anyone else documenting the Holocaust.

He urged Poland to “immediately terminate this law and put an end to all attempts to distort the history of the Holocaust for political purposes.” The Polish prime minister on Sunday night compared Poles and Jews to two families who lived in the same house — Poland — before the war and were both victimized by the Nazis.

In a post on Twitter, Morawiecki said: “A gang of professional thugs enters a two-family house. They kill the first family almost entirely. They kill the parents of the second, torturing the kids. They loot and raze the house. Could one, in good conscience, say that the second family is guilty for the murder of the first?”

Associated Press writer Vanessa Gera in Warsaw contributed to this report.

Advertisements