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Friday, 16 October 2009

A Small Scandal at the Jewish Chronicle

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 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.


  1. A good piece. And Pollard's fondness for Kaminski is at one with his disgraceful failure/refusal even to mention the death of Marek Edelman. Every other media outlet -- newspapers, the web, radio and television -- gave prominence the last surviving commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a real hero, who devoted his life to the justice and wellbeing of all humanity. Only the Jewish Chronicle failed to honour him. Could this be because he was a Bundist, who made the difficult choice of remaining in Poland and working to bring democracy and human rights to everyone in that country, and refused to give uncritical support to Israel?

  2. I agree on Mark Edelman, but I think Howar'd blog is too black and white. I'm not a gret proponent of anachronistic apologies. That the Government of present day Poland should apologies for what a communist government did before them, let alone what Polish people did in a Nazi occupied country before that, seems to me anachronsitic, like England apologising for the slave trade or Israel for the massacre of the Amalekites. And that, I understand it, it what Kaminski was arguing. Not about rfeparations, which is a totally different matter.

    And while we are on the subject of black and white, didn't someone wrtie that Kaminsky has in practice been a good firend to the Jews in Poland?

    Let's not fall for either side's propaganda. The world's more complex than that (which the JLC seems to understand even if the BoD don't).

  3. Oops, I didn't finish typing my name. That should have been Robert Stone

  4. Well Done Howard.

    It needs to be said and you said it.


  5. Howard, alas, it does happen to be historically accurate that Polish Jewish Communists, on the back of the Red Army, did indeed kill considerably more than 300 Poles. True, they did so as communists and not as Jews, but it just might be a little difficult for a Pole to tell the two roles apart. But Kaminsky did, indeed, specify them as "Jewish comunists" not "Jews". In that context, it might also be worth mentioning that Poles of all nations have the highest number of Yad Vashem trees. Asking a whole nation (including , presumably, these Yadvashemniks?), to go on apologising for two massacres (the other, bigger, being Kielce) just might not be the fairest thing to do. Maybe a bit like asking all Jews to apologise for Jewish comunists?
    All the best, Benjamin

  6. From the News on 30 0ct:

    The Tories last night stepped up pressure on Foreign Secretary David Miliband to apologise for his attacks on the Right-wing Polish leader of the group the Conservatives have joined in the European parliament.
    Mr Miliband has accused Michal Kaminski of having an antisemitic and neo-Nazi past.

    The Foreign Secretary had quoted the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich as attacking Mr Kaminski as an anti-Semite.
    But the Rabbi said Kaminski was 'a strong friend' of Israel and added: 'It is a grotesque distortion that people are quoting me to prove that Kaminski is an anti-Semite.'

    Read more: