Lapid’s shameless politics
You report in “Opposition slams coalition for surrender to haredim on ‘insulting’ conscription draft bill” (March 13): “Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid said… the new bill [for haredi enlistment] is a ‘fraud’ and ‘an insult to the IDF.’”
If all citizens were liable for the compulsory draft – including all Arab citizens and also the increasing number of leftist “conscientious objectors” – one might understand his objections. However, that the haredim are singled out and the other groups’ exemption is tacitly condoned lends credence to a haredi perception that service in the IDF is not meant primarily to defend the country but, rather, to assimilate them into a secular society estranged from Jewish values. This objective was clearly stated seven decades ago by David Ben-Gurion when he refused to allow separate religious and secular units in the IDF.
I must, however, agree with Lapid in that referring to it as “the draft-dodging bill” proves “how cynical, broken and shameless” how own politics are – his anti-haredi propaganda differs little from the antisemitism used by populist parties in Europe in the 20th century.
MARTIN D. STERN
Nitzan’s outrageous remarks
State Attorney Shai Nitzan’s remarks are outrageous (“Attacking state’s witnesses as liars is baseless, head attorney tells PM,” March 12). This is an example of the “police state” attitude that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has complained about.
These witnesses are giving evidence as part of a deal with the prosecution. Their testimony has been bought. It is for the defense to destroy their credibility in the eyes of the court, and for the prosecution to establish it.
When Nitzan pontificates that the prosecution has investigated these witnesses and feels they are not liars, he attacks the foundation of judicial independence and puts the prosecution’s independence in question.
Don’t forget the tyrant Sisi
In “We must defend our values in Syria” (Observations, March 9), Isaac Herzog writes that the name of Syrian President Bashar Assad “is already recorded permanently on the list of the most wretched and villainous war criminals of our time.” I have to ask: How many Egyptians have to die at the hands of Assad’s partner, the military tyrant Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, for him to be added to this list?
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes pride in the fact that Israel has become a sponsor of Arab dictators, and he considers this a non-precedented success for his government. This doesn’t surprise me, since he promoted disconnection between our countries in his book A Place Among the Nations. His policies are in a way a declaration of war against the Egyptian people, the victims of a military dictatorship – the same people who welcomed then-president Anwar Sadat in Cairo on the day he returned from Jerusalem.
The Egyptian military, after assassinating Sadat, has restricted the peaceful relations between our countries to only what serves its interests. It cracked down on every Egyptian voice that called for peace and coexistence because it feared that Egyptian society might get stronger. The same generals have long invested in inflaming religious and antisemitic hatred. They use the accusations of “normalization with Israel” as a tool for the political assassination of Egyptians who demand peaceful relations with Israel.
You might know that these generals have refused to build an academic center in Israel, as the peace treaty calls for, because this would require collaboration with Egyptian civilians, which the generals don’t want.
Democracy and civil collaboration are the real guarantee for peace and the only protection from radicalization and terror.
The writer is the author of Algeria between the Military and the Fundamentalists (1991) and other works.
The matter of Poland
Concerning the controversy over Polish behavior toward the country’s Jewish population at the time of the Nazi occupation, it is important to remember who was the hunter and who was the hunted. The hunter was Nazi Germany. The hunted were obviously the Jews, but also the Poles who resisted Nazi orders.
The following true story, which happened to me in Krakow in 1998, will indicate how it is virtually impossible to point a finger at who is right and who is wrong.
I was standing outside Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, where I was attending an academic conference. A list of attendees included my name and the fact that I was from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was still a time when very few Israelis (or Jews) were traveling to Poland.
An elderly and apparently impoverished Polish woman identified me. She came up to me and told me that she wanted payment for a sack of flour that a Jewish woman had grabbed from her in 1943. Apparently, the Jewish woman, holding a child with one hand, had grabbed the entire sack although the Polish woman had only intended to give her one cup, and apparently the Polish woman was still carrying around her grievance.
I paid her what she asked for in dollars and so put paid to the whole situation – that of the Jewish woman desperate for food for herself and her starving child, and that of a Polish woman who, 55 years after the event, still felt cheated.
None of us know what happened to that Jewish woman and her child. What I do know is that it is time to stop all the recriminations and self-righteousness, for indeed, when human behavior is weighed on the scales of justice, we are all found wanting.
Poland’s welcome to Jews by kings and nobles over many centuries was important in giving the country the largest Jewish population in Europe.
The cause of antisemitism in Poland was the work of two forces: the Catholic Church after the Reformation, when all non-Catholics were attacked, and the rise of integral nationalism in the late-19th century, an early midwife of fascism.
When my grandmother, my father and his brother left Polesie, a region then in eastern Poland under the new Second Republic, and now in Belarus, in 1922, they found the newly arrived Polish troops very antisemitic, more so than those of the tsarist regime, and certainly more so than the occupying Germans, who were very friendly toward the Jews. My grandmother threw the key to her home into the bushes so that the Polish troops could not find it.
The Poles at this time were very hostile toward any group – Jews, Lithuanians, Belorussians, Ukrainians or Germans – they felt weakened the new Polish national state. This attitude was never modified, not during the period after the death of Marshal Pilsudski, who was friendly toward minority groups living in the Polish Commonwealth for centuries, nor during the rule of the colonels, the German occupation or ever since.
No country in Europe – not even Ukraine, with its history of fierce antisemitism – has as bad a record as Poland over the last 100 years. I think it could be hopeless to think anything will change there for the better.
The writer is an emeritus professor of history at the University of California, Riverside.