All Antisemitism Is Dangerous — Why We Must Fight Poland’s Holocaust Law
Lately I have been seeing a lot of comments in both social media and in some publications that Jews should not be getting so upset about what the Polish government is doing with its Holocaust law. They say that we “have bigger fish to fry” — or other things to worry about — than this horrible law.
This theme — of bigger fish to fry — is nothing new. In fact, whenever I speak or write about antisemitism coming from the far-right, I get (often angry) comments from people who immediately tell me that I should focus on the far-left — because they are either more numerous, more dangerous or both.
And whenever I speak or write about antisemitism on the far-left or from Islamist supremacists (who as an aside, I think are far-right, but are often in a weird alliance in the West with the far-left), I immediately get (often even angrier) comments from people about how the far-right is more dangerous.
And recently, due to repeatedly writing about my growing revulsion with Poland’s political leaders, I have received comments from people telling me that there are far worse places for Jews than Poland.
To all of these comments, my response is generally the same: “I can walk and chew gum at the same time.” Meaning that I can decry and rail against both right and left-wing Jew hatred. I can write about the dangers to Jews coming from Islamist supremacists, while I also decry the terrible developments in Poland.
After all, if Jewish history has taught us anything, it’s that ignoring antisemitism is never a good idea — and that if you wait until it becomes a pressing enough issue, then you should expect what we now see in France. In the last two months alone, we have seen multiple physical attacks directed at Jews — including last week, when a French rabbi’s baby was burned by acid placed in her stroller.
As for Poland, this is about much more than one horrid law trying to whitewash Polish complicity and cooperation with the Nazis’ Final Solution — though that should be horrifying enough on its own.
Why? Because when politicians and national leaders try to manipulate history for political purposes, it forewarns us of future danger. And much of what Poland’s current leadership has done, should be a red flag for Jews worldwide.
Before Poland’s Law and Justice party won the 2015 election, there was certainly a developing feeling of reconciliation between Poland and world Jewry. This was evident in warming relations between Poland and Israel; a small but growing Jewish population of around 10,000 Jews in Poland’s major cities; and a visible increase in signs of Jewish culture in Poland, including the opening of kosher restaurants and schools.
But with the election of 2015, and the steady raise of far-right nationalism in Poland, many of these positive developments have been swept away with far-right nationalist fervor. And most of Poland’s Jewish population today feels a lot less safe.
In one of the comments I recently saw about this issue, the commentator wrote that our focus on Poland’s vile Holocaust law demonstrates how we are more “worried about the welfare of Jews in the 1930s than those of 2018.” However, as there are 10,000 Jews living in Poland today, decrying Poland’s far-right wing pivot towards antisemitism certainly reflects and relates to a concern for Jews in 2018.
And this is also not just about Poland’s recent Holocaust law. The current Polish leadership has not been satisfied with threatening to censor and jail people (including Jewish Holocaust survivors) who talk honestly about the Holocaust. They are also passing laws prohibiting kosher slaughter, and are now “re-examining” their previously proposed and already highly deficient restitution law regarding property that was confiscated or stolen from Jews during the Holocaust.
In addition, numerous Polish leaders, smelling blood in the water, are making horridly antisemitic and libelous claims about Jews, including fanning raw Jew-hatred based on the ridiculous notion that Jews were the ones responsible for the murder or persecution of Poles as the supposed heads of the Communist Party during the Iron Curtain days. As a result, it is not difficult to see that Poland’s growing antisemitism is part of a larger problem that we Jews are facing in many parts of Europe; and on that basis alone, we should strongly condemn and resist what’s happening in Poland.
But there is another aspect to this that bears consideration. Unlike other parts of Eastern Europe, where many Jews rightly complain that the citizenry have never even taught about the Holocaust or their complicity therewith — or where gangs in France are regularly attacking Jews — we Jews are directly and materially contributing to Poland’s economy. How so? Ironically, because of the very thing that the Polish leadership is trying to whitewash: the Holocaust.
For years now, the Jewish community outside of Poland has been traveling to and contributing significantly to Poland’s tourism industry. By virtue of Poland being the location where the Nazis decided to place all of their major death camps (for reasons that included the Polish people’s deep and ingrained antisemitism from well before 1939) tens of thousands of Jews have traveled to Poland from Israel and all over the Diaspora for the “March of the Living,” and other tours and events in Poland.
But if Poland is going to continue down its current path of Jew-hatred and revisionist history (which almost always ends with physical attacks on Jews and institutional antisemitism), then they need to understand that the Jewish people will not be quiet about it — and will certainly not contribute more money to their tourism industry coffers.
We need to make it clear to Poland’s leaders that the days of Jews being quiet in the face of raw antisemitism — out of the hope that it will simply go way (or not get worse) — are over. We must tell them that if they want to continue going down this path, then they may end up with Jews taking their kids to Prague and other locations in Europe. While sadly Poland is the place where the most Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, it is not the only place where we can go in order to teach our kids about the Holocaust. Poland’s leader and its people need to be told in loud and clear terms that there is a serious price to pay for their present tilt toward Jew hatred.
After all, as Eli Weisel famously and brilliantly said: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest it.”
We can and should protest antisemitism wherever it manifests itself. And we should certainly do so in Poland, where it is the government itself that is engaging in and promoting antisemitism, regardless of whether there may be other places where people believe the danger is more significant or pressing.
For the moment, Poland has put the new Holocaust censorship law on hold — so the pressure might be working. We should produce more of it.