Implementation of the controversial Holocaust bill, passed by the Polish Senate on February 1, was "frozen" temporarily, due to the toxic rift it caused in Warsaw-Jerusalem relations. The bill, proposed by the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), makes illegal any suggestion that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, particularly the Nazi death camps, which were German, but located on Polish soil.
Criticism of the bill in Israel and among diaspora Jews has been loud and forceful across the political spectrum. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the bill an attempt to "rewrite history," and a Polish diplomatic delegation is arriving in Israel on February 28 to discuss the diplomatic crisis.
Although Jewish outrage over such a law -- which would fine and even jail anyone who dared to implicate Poland in the Nazi genocide -- is probably no surprise, the crashing silence from the rest of Europe is shocking.
To his credit, European Council President Donald Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, made two public statements against the bill -- one on Twitter and the other during a press conference in Brussels. His sentiments were echoed by members of the world media and intelligentsia, who have protested Poland's move.
In the face of Poland's implementation of the controversial Holocaust bill, the crashing silence from the rest of Europe is shocking. To his credit, European Council President Donald Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, made two public statements against the bill. (Image source: European Parliament/Flickr)
With the exception of France, whose foreign minister called the bill "ill advised," the European Union countries, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe have been avoiding the controversy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying she did not want to "wade into Poland's internal affairs," declined to comment.
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel released a statement assuring Poland that "every form of historical falsification such as the term 'Polish concentration camps' runs into clear rejection on our part and will be sharply condemned." Unfortunately, this is the same Gabriel who told a group of Muslim community leaders in December that what he saw when he visited Israel many years ago "reminded him of apartheid."
Poland's move is nothing short of a moral fiasco, particularly as it comes amid an anti-Semitism in Europe so rampant that, in 2015, the European Commission appointed a "coordinator on combating anti-Semitism." Katharina von Schnurbein, who holds the position, appears to have done little on the job. About the Polish bill, she has not uttered a word. She also failed to call out a Polish TV host for snidely remarking that the Nazi concentration camps should be called "Jewish camps;" and she did not react when Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the Holocaust had involved "Jewish perpetrators," as well as Polish ones. She also said nothing about Morawiecki's laying a wreath on the memorial of a Polish underground movement that collaborated with the Nazis; and she ignored the demand by a Polish education official that only Poles should be guides to Auschwitz. She has, however, been heard condemning the daily anti-Semitic incidents in Poland, the largest recipient of EU subsidies, and she did make a point of saying, during a 2016 trip to Israel, "We don't see anti-Semitic violence from the refugees at the moment, thank God."
Given Western Europe's open aversion to the rise of right-wing parties in Eastern Europe, the EU's silence in the face of Poland's behavior makes no sense politically. Ever since Poland's far-right Law and Justice Party took control of both the presidency and the parliament in November 2015, and quickly changed the rules for public media, the secret service, education and the military, the European Parliament has been claiming that Warsaw is putting the "rule of law and democracy" at risk.
When it comes to the issue of Polish anti-Semitism, however, Europe is suddenly at a loss for words. This suggests that it is not merely ineptitude at work, but a far more worrisome trend. It is high time for the EU and its sister bodies to take a moral stand against anti-Semitism and the rewriting of history, lest Europe's distasteful history repeat itself.
Inna Rogatchi, co-founder and president of the Rogatchi Foundation, is an author, scholar, political analyst and filmmaker. Her soon-to-be-published book, A View From the Cattle Wagon, is a collection of essays on the post-Holocaust period.