Analysis

Yad Vashem vs. Bibi: When There's Nothing to Celebrate, Netanyahu Runs From the Cameras

Is the remembrance of the Holocaust less important in Netanyahu’s eyes than the diplomatic holiness of Jerusalem?

Members of a far-right group wear masks of Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they stage a demo criticizing Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki for having backtracked on parts of a Holocaust speech law, in Warsaw, Poland, Monday, July 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Czarek Sokolowski/AP

On June 27, the Prime Minister’s Office sent out a rather unusual announcement to journalists. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wanted to make an announcement on the “issue of the Polish law.” Indeed, not a press conference, with filmed questions and answers, as is customary in other places and less common here, but an announcement, in which he asked to stand up facing of the cameras.

To really understand Israel and the Jewish world - subscribe to Haaretz

There, in a room in the defense establishment's headquarters in Tel Aviv with Israeli flags behind him, and a Polish flag removed at the last minute, Netanyahu announced alongside his secret envoys for solving the Polish crisis, Joseph Ciechanover and Jacob Nagel, the understandings that had been reached to amend the so-called Polish Holocaust law which initially made it a criminal offense to attribute responsibility for Holocaust-era crimes against Jews to the Polish people.

Then, when he wanted to celebrate the achievement, Netanyahu himself came and read out the joint statement. Today, now that it turns out that the senior historians of Israel’s most important Holocaust research center, Yad Vashem, seriously attacked these understandings – the Prime Minister’s Bureau has decided to send out a response “on behalf of the Israeli team led by Joseph Ciechanover and Jacob Nagel.”

>> FULL TEXT: Yad Vashem historians rebuke Netanyahu over Israeli-Polish statement on 'Holocaust law'Israel is yielding to Poland's Holocaust narrative | Analysis ■ Israel's stupid, ignorant and amoral betrayal of the truth on Polish involvement in the Holocaust | Opinion ■ Dear Poland: Your Holocaust law fools no one. No one forgets | Opinion 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference about the Polish 'Holocaust law' in Tel Aviv, June 27, 2018
Chaim Tzach
Netanyahu at  apress conference about the Polish 'Holocaust law' in Tel Aviv, June 27, 2018
חיים צח / לע"מ

Suddenly the Prime Minister is not the one responsible for the decision, of which he was so proud of at the event, so proud of his actions taken along with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. No, it was Ciechanover and Nagel who are responsible. They are at the front. But not a single recorded word – for now – from Netanyahu, and the Poles distributed the joint statement in his name too in the media in Poland, Israel and the world. 

How lucky it is that the Polish flag was taken down in time, certainly someone in his office thinks so. Imagine for yourselves if the picture of Israeli prime minister with Israeli and Polish flags had appeared under the title of the “historical falsifications” found by Israel’s most esteemed Holocaust historians.

The response in the name of the “Israeli team” also says the “chief historian of Yad Vashem, Prof. Dina Porat, accompanied the process from its beginning and the historical statements appearing in the [joint] declaration were approved by her.” Porat was also sent to the front to take responsibility for the document, but Netanyahu is personally responsible for it – not Porat.

The same way he took the stage publicly when he wanted to celebrate his achievement, now Netanyahu must stand up again in front of the cameras and explain to the citizens of Israel what happened and answer some difficult questions: Why does Yad Vashem insist they are not part of the understandings and are criticizing them so harshly? What exactly was Porat’s involvement in their formulation? What were the foreign policy considerations that steered him to reach a compromise?

If it is true, as some officials describe, that the statement was used as a political tool in an attempt to convince Poland and the rest of the Visegrad Group of four Eastern Europe nations – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – to move their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, combined with pressure from the Americans, then Israel’s citizens are entitled to know. Don't Israelis have the right to know if the remembrance of the Holocaust less important in Netanyahu’s eyes than the diplomatic holiness of Jerusalem?