History Is Not for Sale

Even if on paper the diplomatic crisis between Island and Poland has ended, the way it was resolved has created additional crises

Haaretz Cartoon
Eran Wolkowski

There are still many unknowns about events behind the scenes regarding the Israeli-Polish statement that sought to end the crisis between the two countries and amend the so-called Holocaust Law. What’s clear is that even if on paper the diplomatic crisis has ended, the way it was resolved has created additional crises, no less severe, that cannot be swept under the rug by the mendacious document signed by the prime ministers of Israel and Poland.

The joint declaration achieved exactly the opposite of what it set out to do. Instead of reconciling the two sides and easing tensions, it has caused divisions and led to a mutual lack of confidence. Even before the minutes of the meetings held on the issue are revealed, it’s clear that the preparations made ahead of publication were done in an amateurish way. It seems as if someone in Israel tried to “make a deal” at any price, even at the expense of offending the memory of Holocaust victims and survivors.

>> Netanyahu and Polish PM use history for political needs ■ Netanyahu runs from the cameras ■ FULL TEXT: Yad Vashem against Israeli-Polish statement on 'Holocaust Law'

Not many words are needed to explain the significance of the dramatic step taken by Yad Vashem, the world’s most important research institute on the Holocaust, which has unequivocally rejected the declaration. This was done with the signature of Prof. Havi Dreifuss, who specializes in Holocaust history in Poland. Her recent Hebrew-language book “Warsaw Ghetto – The End” describes the isolation of the Jews in the ghetto in utter contradiction to the spirit of the joint declaration, which states that the Polish underground and government in exile made great efforts to help the Jews.   

Even top Polish historians have rejected the declaration. One of them, Prof. Jan Grabowski, author of the book “Hunt for the Jews,” has said that it distorts the history of the Holocaust, adding that historical truth has fallen victim to politics and diplomacy.

This isn’t the first time we find Benjamin Netanyahu rewriting history for political purposes. Two and a half years ago he caused a stir when he claimed that the mufti of Jerusalem was the one who planted in Hitler’s mind the idea of annihilating the Jews. Netanyahu must stop trading in history as if it were his personal property. 

Instead of getting mired in controversial issues and clumsy attempts to decide matters at the heart of vital historical research, it would be better to publish a document that leaves the work with historians on both sides, amid calls to resume friendly relations between the countries. As things stand now, it would perhaps be better for the sides to back off from this sensitive and complex issue and “agree to disagree.”

In any case, the declaration isn’t binding historically or ethically as long as it has not yet been approved by the cabinet or brought to the Knesset for debate, or received Yad Vashem’s approval.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.