Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Poles Agree: Israel is Conducting a War of Extermination Against the Palestinians

Q: Daddy, how do you spell "Zionist"?
A: I don't know, but before the war you spelled it with a "J"!

When asked to agree or disagree with the statement,
"Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians",
63% of Polish participants agreed.

There are so many things wrong and repulsive about Europeans believing that Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians and each of the nationalities participating in a survey by the German-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation has its own set of historical legacies that may inform such a view. But for Yom HaShoah, I want to focus on Poland where half the Jews of Europe were exterminated by the Nazi killing machine that depended on the collaboration/ obliviousness/ hatred/ indifference of the Polish people. The largest Jewish population anywhere in the world lived in Poland and 85% of them were killed during WWII. From approximately three million, the number of Jews in Poland nowadays is somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000.

So...let's ask how it could be that 63%, or two-thirds, of Polish respondents felt comfortable enough -- not ashamed, not secretive -- to agree to the term 'War of Extermination' in relation to Israel and the Palestinians. It's as if there is cloud of confusion related to numbers that seems to hover above Polish minds and it is reminiscent of a similar confusion that wildly overestimates the numbers of Palestinian deaths, say, since 1948.

According to the Polynational War Memorial and other unbiased agencies, between 1948 and 2009 there have been approximately 15,000 combined Palestinian and Israeli casualties as a result of the conflict. Let's say that more than half of those were Palestinians. The Nazi's ate numbers like that for breakfast and outside Auschwitz and Birkenau and Treblinka, Polish townfolk and peasants witnessed numbers like that coming in on trains and going out through smokestacks on a weekly basis.

The syndrome of forgetting numbers is well illustrated in one of my 'favorite' scenes in Claude Lanzmann's Shoah "...when the wife of the Nazi schoolteacher in Chelmno, who witnessed the gas vans coming and going each day, could no longer remember how many Jews had been gassed, whether it was 4,000, 40,000 or 400,000. When Lanzmann tells her 400,000, what is her response? ' knew it had a four in it.'" 

I realize I'm being impressionistic, but how can one account for the conflation of the actual war of extermination of that eternal object of projection -- the Jew on whom we blame our sins and the Israel-Palestinian conflict of which there are two sides? When there is no sense of scale differentiating the lose of almost an entire people, the Jews, from the death of a regrettable number of Palestinians? And that loss of precision situated in a country whose Jewish population went from three million to, relatively speaking, almost nothing?

Perhaps a few examples of 20th Century historical memory can account somewhat for the projection of Polish guilt upon the Jews. One such was the 1941 Jebwabne Pogrom in which approximately 1,000 Jews were massacred by their Polish neighbors. In 2001, when the book Neighbors by Jan Gross was published, there was a fierce debate in Poland with many blaming either the Nazis for instigating the pogrom or the Jews themselves for collaborating with the Soviets and bringing the horrendous massacre upon themselves. That was during the war. The Kielce Pogrom in 1946 came after the war when some Jews returned from concentration camps and tried to reclaim their property and resettle in the town. For over 60 years the Poles were unable to come to terms with their guilt for inflicting such horrors with their very own bare hands.

The government orchestrated Anti-Zionist demonstrations in 1968.
And then, of course is the other, thornier conflation: the one between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism. In 1967 following the Six-Day War, the Polish government, in line with other Soviet Bloc countries switched allegiance to the pro-Arab camp and, in a classic case of scapegoating the Jews, unleashed an Anti-Zionist campaign to purge the Communist Party of some of its Jews and also to deflect attention from student and worker protests against food shortages, lack of democracy, etc. It was a great way to channel the people's frustration towards the "Zionist-revisionists." 1968 saw the clearing out of most of the remaining Jews when many jumped at the opportunity to emigrate leaving behind a small Jewish cohort that has been helped, in recent years, to rebuild many of its institutions and become, ironically, an object of celebration by the larger society.

In an interview about the Left's Anti-Zionism, the Chicago University Marxist historian Moishe Postone provides a very credible description of the movement from Anti-Semitism to Anti-Zionism and the particular projection of genocidal aims onto the Jews after the establishment of Israel

"...the violence historically perpetrated by Europeans on Jews is erased; at the same time the horrors of European colonialism now become attributed to the Jews. In this case, the abstract universalism expressed by many anti-Zionists today becomes an ideology of legitimation that helps constitute a form of amnesia regarding the long history of European actions, policies and ideologies toward the Jews, while essentially continuing that history. The Jews have once again become the singular object of European indignation."

You can read the entire Friedrich Ebert Foundation survey here and the summary here.


  1. So sad..... I am from Poland, I have lived few years abroad being among others involved in Irish Christian Friends of Israel at the committee. I absolutely love Israel and try to share my knowledge about it and my admiration for it. You may check my blog
    What can I say? There is awfully lot of anti-Semitism in contemporary Europe, whole of it. I personally believe Poland (voting against Goldstone's report, having joint governments setting with Israel last year) is far from th worst, but it is not excuse for - still present - antisemitism. I may add that picures from 60s that are here were from the marches people were forced to - neither did they suppor Vietnam nor were visciously against Israel but were told to go on marches under penalty of loosing job, there were lists of participants from given work-factory to be checked.
    Still it is not excuse for what is now. I may just say it is complicated but I'd love to see it simple. There was never extermination war lead by Israel. All the Israeli wars were defensive and they are Israeli enemies calling for genocide and wiping her of the map. I am aware of it and try to do my best to make people aware of it. Just wish I will succeed a little bit.....
    Wishing all the best.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment. It really is complicated as you say. I probably could have made more nuanced distinctions between the state and the people but, in the end, it was individuals who responded to the survey and it was their opinions that horrify.

  3. The answers to each of the other questions only serve to underscore how deeply and inherently anti-Semitic/anti-Israel Poland remains, and their denial of and culpability for their own war of extermination against the Jews.

    I'm glad to read JaOpProstu's response above, but the numbers tell a very different story.

  4. georgesdelatourMay 5, 2012 at 8:27 PM

    "I want to focus on Poland where half the Jews of Europe were exterminated by the Nazi killing machine that DEPENDED ON [emphasis added] the collaboration/ obliviousness/ hatred/ indifference of the Polish people."

    That statement is unreasonable. If someone said that the Nazi killing of 6 million Jews depended on Jewish collaboration with the Nazis in their own degradation and dehumanisation, we'd both agree such a statement was unreasonable. The Nazis held the machine guns; the Jews did not. That should be enough.

    But let's not forget. The Poles did not hold the machine guns either. The Nazi killing machine depended on their ability to kill people - Polish Catholic or Polish Jewish. This ability the Nazis undoubtedly had, regardless of whether Poles acted compliantly or defiantly.

    The Nazis certainly killed plenty of Poles, who they regarded as sub-humans only fit for slave labour: are you aware of AB-Aktion or Operation Tannenberg? They killed around 6 million Poles, of whom half were Jewish. The non-Jewish total is still exceptionally high - especially when compared with the occupied countries to Germany's west, such as Claude Lanzmann's France. Asked about the French Resistance, Albert Speer famously replied, "what French Resistance?". There was, of course, no Polish equivalent of Pétain or Laval; and there was, of course no Parisian equivalent of the Warsaw Uprising. Since the Nazis regarded Poles as sub-humans, there could be no Vichy Poland, where Poles would be largely left alone by the Nazis, provided they carried out the odd Vel' d'Hiv style roundup of Jews. Poles who sheltered Jews would have their entire family shot if they were caught. In spite of this, Poland has the highest number of Righteous Among The Nations.


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