So, after all the moral self-examination of the High Holy Days, the recognition of ‘our’ failures, individually and as a people, it’s back to business as usual. There is a small scandal afoot in the pages of the Jewish Chronicle and I want to offer some thoughts about it.
Let me share with you a letter I have sent to the paper, which (rather surprisingly perhaps) they have published, albeit in a slightly edited version. It outlines the story so far.
So now we know where we stand. The editor of the JC has been recruited to defend [ that phrase was of course edited out by the JC] the Conservative Party’s alliance with the Polish nationalist MEP Michal Kaminski. Critics of this alliance, including the Labour Party, are ‘Eurofanatics…resorting to the smear tactic’ (October9th).
Martin Bright, the JC’s recently appointed political editor, after an extended interview with Kaminski is clear that ‘Dismissing concerns raised about Mr Kaminski as Labour smears is just not good enough.’ Oh, to have been a fly-on-the-wall at this week’s Editorial meeting.
On 20 March 2001 Kaminski gave an interview to the nationalist Nasza Polska newspaper in which he stated that Poland should not apologise for the murder of the Jews of Jedwabne until Jews apologised for ‘murdering Poles’ during the Soviet wartime occupation of Poland. If Mr Kaminski and his supporters choose to forget, deny or misrepresent his stated views - and are dulled to the moral vacuity of his words – that is one thing, sadly unexceptional when political ambition makes such sleight-of-hand commonplace. But for the editor of this distinguished newspaper actively to collude with and promote this chicanery marks a new moral low for the JC and represents a disservice to Anglo-Jewry.
Let me sketch out some of the background to this surly complaint of mine. The leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, will soon be this country’s Prime Minister. (This is barring some last minute intervention from the Holy One, Blessed Be He, on behalf of the Labour Party – which one has to admit is unlikely, as God has not previously been known to be a Labour supporter (despite rumours to the contrary), although He does, it is said, have a concern for the poor, and an interest in the education of children). Cameron has recently switched his party’s allegiances in the European Parliament, so that British Conservatives now sit within the ‘European Conservatives and Reformists Group’, a collection of far-right nationalists and xenophobes.
These include Roberts Zile of Latvia’s Freedom and Fatherland party, who support the annual (unofficial) parade in Riga honouring the conscripts and volunteers who fought for the Latvian Waffen-SS - among them men who’d already participated in massacres of Jews. An equally unsavoury colleague of the British Conservatives in Europe is Michal Kaminski of Poland’s Law and Order party (motto: ‘Poland for Poles’), who is now head of the grouping in which Cameron’s 25 European colleagues sit.
On July 10th 1941, the 300 Jewish men, woman and children of the Polish town of Jedwabne were herded into a barn by their Polish neighbours - not by the occupying Nazis – and then burned alive. A mini-holocaust within the larger genocidal savagery. When Poland’s president formally apologised for this crime in 2001, on its 60th anniversary, Kaminski was amongst those Poles who disagreed with the apology, a position he defended last week: ‘If you are asking the Polish nation to apologise for the crime...you would require from the whole Jewish nation to apologise for what some Jewish communists did in eastern Poland.’
In last week’s Jewish Chronicle Kaminski also says in his interview with the JC’s political editor that in regard to the Jedwabne pogrom: ‘I think it is unfair comparing it with Nazi crimes...’
So, the small scandal? This is the politician - lacking in moral insight and ethical reflectiveness, and with a previous history of anti-Semitic connections that he now denies - who is being defended by the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Stephen Pollard, who has been recruited by the Conservatives to help dig them out of the hole, the moral abyss, into which they have fallen. And the editor is using Anglo-Jewry’s leading newspaper as a mini-fiefdom for this personal and political crusade.
How do you rehabilitate Kaminski’s public image? Pollard’s tactics are crude. Although the facts are incontrovertible, you have a job to do – so you defend your Tory friends’ friend by crying out ‘Smears!’ and then smearing those who express their concerns, be they Labour MPs or the President of the Board of Deputies. And Pollard’s trump card? Kaminski is a ‘friend of the Jews’ – and, in particular, a staunch ‘supporter of Israel’. So that’s all right then - and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. And sweep Kaminski’s moral juggling and Cameron’s error of judgment under the table.
This is so pathetic that I appal myself to be writing about it. And yet it does seem to matter to me that Anglo-Jewry’s representative newspaper - for all its faults and inadequacies - is being recruited for this disreputable campaign. In olden days one might have concluded by saying, in dramatic fashion, ‘The Editor Should Resign!’. But of course things don’t work like that any more. For isn’t it all just the cut and thrust of corrupted politics and the selling of newspapers and the unashamed self-promotion of the power-hungry?
It seems absurd in the face of this ‘business as usual’ political and journalistic mess to juxtapose it with this Shabbat’s prophetic reading, from the Book of Isaiah, where the Jewish community is reminded of its role as a ‘light for the nations’, representatives of a particular vision of justice and truth-telling:
‘All the nations assemble together, the peoples gather:
Who amongst them can speak about this, pay attention to what has happened?
Let them produce their witnesses and be proved just,
So that those who hear them can say: “Yes, this is true”.
Actually, you are My witnesses, says the Eternal One...’
(Isaiah 43: 9-10)
But then I suppose the prophetic voice always did seem absurd when brought to bear on the opportunism, power politics and moral delinquency of the day. It was always judged to be out of touch with what is ‘real’, for it offers a different perspective, a radical vision of truth far-removed from the delusional versions of ‘truth’ that we habitually construct. Meanwhile, Kaminski’s and Pollard’s versions of truth are self-serving and self-deceiving. And they need to be exposed.