The Makings of History / Getting It Wrong - on the Record

Knesset member Jamal Zahalka (Balad ) said this week that no country demands allegiance to its ideology except Israel. That is not true. In many countries, it is customary to demand a pledge of allegiance to the constitution, which expresses basic ideological values, as do countries' names, anthems and flags. Libyans are citizens of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Iran is the Islamic Republic of Iran; North Korea is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Several European countries wave flags that bear crosses, thereby demonstrating their commitment to Christianity. One of these is Norway, which requires citizenship applicants to swear allegiance to democracy and human rights.

Queen Elizabeth II, AP

Britain and several of its former colonies require an oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II and her heirs. This might make things difficult for those who object on principle to a monarchy. In many countries, the pledge of allegiance ends with the words "so help me God," which might make matters tough for atheists.

MK Zahalka is not the only person to have left incorrect information in the Knesset minutes; several others distorted history just this week. "Eyes should be trained on the pages of history, not on the hands of the clock," Shimon Peres said at the Knesset. The president's watch may be accurate, but "the pages of history" do not really confirm his statement that "we have been attacked seven times." We have been attacked far more times than that, and some of the wars began with an Israeli offensive. Peres said, "No [other] people experienced so many wars in such a short time." Actually, the Palestinians experienced all the same wars.

Netanyahu got it wrong too. A freeze on construction in the settlements is not "unprecedented," as he claimed: In November 1992, the Rabin government also decided to halt construction in the settlements.

Netanyahu harked back to the glory days of Israel's relationship with Iran under the Shah. That is a dark chapter of which Israel ought not to be proud. The Shah was one of the cruelest and most corrupt rulers of the 20th century. Netanyahu also claimed that all Israeli citizens enjoy full equality. That has never been true, even from a legal standpoint: There are laws, regulations and arrangements that discriminate against the state's Arabs. Anyone who denies this will not be able to fix the situation, either.

The Chopin incident

Two weeks ago I mentioned in this column a Jerusalem mystery: Why does the capital of Israel have a street named after Frederic Chopin, a Polish composer who was known for his hatred of Jews, while there are no streets named after greater composers? Marcos Silber, a lecturer at the University of Haifa's Jewish history department, found the answer while researching the history of Israeli-Polish relations.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Chopin's birth. Nineteen sixty, his 150th birthday, was declared "Chopin Year" by UNESCO, and Golda Meir, Israel's foreign minister at the time, agreed to head a committee to mark the event here, and came up with the idea of naming a street in the capital for him. The Jerusalem municipality proposed the Kiryat Hayovel neighborhood; the Foreign Ministry wanted a more dignified location, in Talbieh. In December 1960 the sign was unveiled in a well-attended ceremony. Meir, wearing a long winter coat, cut the ribbon. The Israel Defense Forces band played Chopin pieces.

At the time, the initiative aroused public criticism, because of Chopin's anti-Semitism, and turned into a diplomatic incident. The cultural attache at the Polish legation had plenty to say about racism and xenophobia in Israel too. He claimed that in the building he lived in with his family, at 11 Weizmann Street in Tel Aviv, a madman had attacked the attache's children and threatened them with a knife.

Two or three of the neighbors would call them "Polish pigs," the diplomat recounted.

The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem reported all of this to Israel's representatives in Warsaw. Historian Marcos Silber's conclusion: "Another moment of goodwill went wrong once again in the convoluted relationship of Jewish-Polish love-hate."