Why Netanyahu sees Poland as Israel's most loyal EU ally despite its ongoing problems with antisemitism

The strange case of a Polish Holocaust law which was immediately reversed can teach us something about Zionist antisemitism in Europe today

Slavoj Zizek
Thursday 23 August 2018 14:48 BST
A new kind of Zionist antisemitism is gathering pace among alt-right supporters, and hardline right wing Israeli politicians like Netanyahu don't move to contradict it
A new kind of Zionist antisemitism is gathering pace among alt-right supporters, and hardline right wing Israeli politicians like Netanyahu don't move to contradict it

A very important development recently, though largely ignored by the media, offers a new insight into the campaign against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, and “democratic socialists” in the US.

In January, our media abundantly reported the Polish Sejm – the lower house of parliament dominated by the populist PiS Law and Justice party – endorsed an amendment under which attributing blame to Poland for Second World War era Nazi crimes is punishable by three years in prison. The decision provoked outcry around the world and gave rise to tensions between Poland and Israel, since it was perceived as emblematic of a long running problem the eastern European nation has with antisemitism. It appeared to be just another chapter in the long feud between Christian nationalists and their “cosmopolitan” Jewish opponents.

But then, the largely ignored second act of the affair followed, noted only by a few commentators, my honourable Polish friend Slawomir Sierakowski among them.

At an abruptly convened session in late June, the Sejm rushed through another amendment, effective immediately, reversing the first amendment – such that writing about the responsibility of the Polish people for the Holocaust is now no longer punishable.

In line with PiS ideology, the amendment nonetheless emphasises the large number of Poles who heroically helped Jews, so that, as they say, PiS could have its cake and eat it. The message was: “You can write about it because there is nothing to write about.”

The first mystery here is the way in which this reconciliation between Polish populists and Israel was accomplished. The entire process was carried out in secret, to the point that Israeli-Polish relations were mediated by the countries’ respective intelligence agencies. Benjamin Netanyahu, the populist prim minister of Israel, was eager to resolve the conflict with fellow populists in the PiS government, because he did not want to alienate his nation’s most loyal ally within the European Union.

Which begs the question, how can Poland, with its awful tradition of antisemitism, be Israel’s most loyal ally?

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu hail US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital

We should remember Poland is no exception here: relations between Netanyahu and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban – whose Fidesz party and its allies are also permeated by that particular brand of Christian nationalist antisemitism – are also more than cordial. And that is not to mention president Donald Trump, who is in the US supported by the antisemitic alt-right while internationally a staunch supporter of Zionist expansionism – with moving the US embassy to Jerusalem surely the biggest proof of this.

The extreme version of this seemingly self contradictory “Zionist antisemitism” was propagated by Anders Breivik, the Norwegian anti immigrant mass murderer: he was antisemitic but pro Israel, since the state of Israel was in his view the first line of defence against Muslim expansion – he even wanted to see the Jerusalem Temple rebuilt. In short, Breivik’s belief system seemed to say: Jews are okay as long as there aren’t too many of them or, as he wrote in his “manifesto”: “There is no Jewish problem in Western Europe, with the exception of the UK and France, as we only have 1 million in Western Europe, whereas 800,000 out of these 1 million live in France and the UK. The US, on the other hand, with more than 6 million Jews – 600 per cent more than Europe – actually has a considerable Jewish problem.” It was the ultimate paradox, of a Zionist antisemite.

The really depressing fact is Netanyahu and his partisans act as allies of this tendency, just one of the clear signs – the other being the new Israeli law on citizenship which transforms non Jews into secondary citizens – Israel is becoming just another Middle Eastern fundamentalist country, an ally of Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Antisemites in one’s own country – in the case of Poland, Hungary and the Baltic states – are nowadays tolerated insofar as they turn into Zionist supporters of Israeli politics in the West Bank, while leftists who sympathise with West Bank Palestinians and also warn against resurgent antisemitism in Europe are denounced.

One often hears antisemitism is today’s biggest left wing problem. But against this misconception, it should be emphasised today’s antisemitism is populist rather than leftist – populism always needs an external enemy threatening the harmony of the people, be they Jews, immigrants, Muslims or any combination of the above. The true left is never antisemitic – if it was, it would simply mean the movement had betrayed its leftist core. Here the logic of the old joke fully applies: “My fiancée is never late for a date, because the moment she is late, she is no longer my fiancée” – replace “fiancée” with “left” and “late” with “antisemitic” and you get the idea.

One should not be surprised to learn the push within Israel to condemn Poland’s memory law did not come from Zionist fundamentalists – it was launched by the Israeli anti fundamentalist opposition, and Netanyahu only went along with it because he had no other choice.

A new political line of division is emerging: antisemitic Zionists against those who fight aggressive Zionism and antisemitism on behalf of the Jewish emancipatory legacy itself. They should be our allies; they are one of the few glimmers of hope in today’s confused time of false divisions.

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