Poland and Rwanda Should Move Their Embassies to Jerusalem
Being at the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness history. It was moving beyond words. I could scarcely believe my eyes when I saw the words — etched moved in stone, quite literally — Embassy of the United States of America, Jerusalem, Israel. Those who were fortunate to be present — about 700 in total — will never forget the feeling of uplift and inspiration as the world’s foremost superpower and most influential nation recognized Jerusalem officially as the eternal capital of the Jewish people.
Over the next few days, other nations, like Guatemala and Paraguay, also courageously moved their embassies to Jerusalem. Still more nations are considering doing so.
But two countries in particular could make a very special kind of history by moving their embassies: Poland and Rwanda.
I have written recently about the special challenges presented by the Polish-Jewish relationship. On the one hand, the Jewish people sojourned in Poland for more than 800 years, originally being offered a place of refuge when few other nations would take the Jews in. On the other hand, the Jewish presence in Poland ended with a tragedy beyond description when the German Nazis swooped in and murdered more than 90 percent of the Jewish population. Since then there has been a heated and important debate about the extent to which the Poles themselves participated in atrocities against the Jews.
The recent Polish Holocaust law, forbidding discussion of official Polish collusion with Germany, only served to exacerbate Jewish feelings that Poland was, and remains, antisemitic.
But such feelings do not address, nor help, the necessary partnership of the Jewish people with the Poles in commemorating the memory of about four million Jews who were murdered on Polish soil. The Polish government is now entrusted by providence with preserving the memory of the Nazi extermination camps, and telling the story of the annihilation of Polish Jewry. Working together with Poland, as the March of the Living does admirably, is critical to preserving that memory.
There is one thing that Poland can do, however, to address traditional charges of antisemitism in one fell swoop: to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
Poland has become one of Israel’s closest friends in Europe. Unfortunately, the relationship became frayed with the passage of the Holocaust law, and other moves. Still, the Polish government could change the narrative by joining the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving its embassy to the city.
This year is also a fitting time for Poland to do what is right. It is not only the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence, but it is also the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A small number of courageous Jews stood up to fight the mighty Nazi army at a time when many governments rolled over and let the Germans occupy their countries. The Polish people, Jews and non-Jews, were among the few to resist.
The foremost genocide of all time took place on Polish soil. That gives Poland a unique responsibility to educate the world about genocide prevention and the evils of the Holocaust. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would create a new era of Jewish-Polish cooperation in discussing and promoting human rights.
The same applies to Rwanda, where the world’s fastest genocide of all time took place — 800,000 innocent men, women, and children, primarily Tutsi, were hacked to death between April and June 1994.
Rwanda also has a special relationship with the Jewish people, as one of the few nations that understands the indifference of the world to mass murder. The UN behaved disgracefully during the Rwanda genocide, as did the Clinton administration, who all but ignored the slaughter. Rwanda has an embassy in Israel and Israel just announced that it will open an embassy in Rwanda. But there can be no greater statement of solidarity or friendship than Rwanda moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Rwanda has also acted courageously in supporting Israel at the UN. But just as Kigali is special to the Rwandan people, Jerusalem is the heart and soul of the Jewish people. I recognize that Rwanda will take some heat from other African countries for moving its embassy, but the American example is one that should be followed.
Like the people of Poland and Israel, the Rwandan people have emerged from war and the brutality of the genocide with determination and an affirmation of life. They should now join more deeply with the Jewish people in allowing the incomparable light of Jerusalem to spread throughout the Middle East, Africa, and the entire world.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” is the international best-selling author of 31 books including his most recent work, The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.