Denis MacShane is right – The Board of Deputies and Stephen Pollard are wrong.

Denis MacShane on CIF.

The curious case of Michal Kaminski

“I hope Kaminski uses his speech to the Tories to make clear that racism and homophobia have no place in European politics

At the National Theatre in London, the play Our Class is pulling in crowds. It examines the massacre by a small group of antisemitic Poles of hundreds of Jews in Jedwabne in north east Poland in 1941. No Nazis were involved. The massacre was covered up by the communist rulers in Poland after 1945. Not until well after the end of communism did the facts come to light. The inconvenient truth that some Poles had taken part in a massacre of Jews caused fury in the rightwing circles in Poland associated with Radio Maryja, the anti-Jewish radio station and among many Polish politicians who felt their nation’s honour had been besmirched.

In 2001, Poland’s president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, went to Jedwabne to apologise. Like Willy Brandt kneeling at the Warsaw Ghetto in 1970, Kwasniewski felt atonement was needed. As Anita Prazmowska has related here, his gesture was criticised by many rightwing Poles, including the rising star of Polish Catholic nationalist politics, Michal Kaminski. His language was lurid and vivid. It upset many Jews. He tried to backtrack but his remarks had been taped.

“Mr President should not take the guilt on the Polish nation, the whole nation that he should represent for what happened in Jedwabne and apologise in its name. I am ready to say the word: I am sorry but under two conditions. First of all, I need to know what I am apologising for. I apologise for a handful of outcasts. Secondly, I can do that if I know that someone from the Jewish side will apologise for what the Jews did during the Soviet occupation between 1939 and 1941. For the mass collaboration of the Jewish people with the Soviet occupier, for fighting Polish partisans in this area. And eventually, for murdering Poles.”

Michal Kaminski has now come to prominence after David Cameron ordered Tory MEPs to serve under his leadership in the European parliament, as part of the Conservative policy of breaking links with mainstream centre-right parties in Europe.”

Read the whole article on Comment Is Free.

Update – Mira adds: see Martin Bright, the Jewish Chronicle’s political editor, on his interview with Kaminski, a report which flies in the face of his editor’s defence of the Polish nationalist politician. Kaminski confirmed to Bright that he had indeed said what he had denied to The Observer.

“It is now obvious that the Tories did not carry out due diligence. Dismissing concerns raised about Mr Kaminski as Labour smears is just not good enough. I spoke to senior Tories close to Mr Cameron this week who never thought it was a good idea to withdraw from the centre-right European People’s Party. Their deepest fears have now been confirmed.”

Letter in the New York Review of Books – Vanessa Redgrave, Julian Schnabel, et al

In the New York Review of Books Volume 56, Number 16 · October 22, 2009

Let Israeli FIlms be Shown

By Vanessa Redgrave, Julian Schnabel, Martin Sherman
To the Editors:

A group of prominent filmmakers has protested the Toronto Film Festival’s choice of Tel Aviv, in its “City to City” section showcasing films from and about a particular city, as “a propaganda campaign on behalf of…an apartheid regime.”[*] Their letter declared that the signatories were not protesting against the Israeli filmmakers who were included or their films. Their stand seems to us to be improperly thought out and to have distressing implications.

The protesters use the term “apartheid regime.” We oppose the current Israeli government, but it is a government. Freely elected. Not a regime. Words matter.

In their letter the protesters say that “Tel Aviv is built on destroyed Palestinian villages.” True. Just as much of America is built on obliterated Indian property. Are they implying that Tel Aviv should not exist? At least not in its present form? Which would mean that the State of Israel (the original State of Israel, not including the occupied territories) should not exist. Thousands of Palestinians have died through the years because the Israeli government, military, and part of the population fervently believe that the Arab states and, indeed, much of the world do not want Israel to exist. How then are we halting this never-ending cycle of violence by promoting the very fears that cause it?

The injustice and cruelty inflicted upon the Palestinians over decades are immense. Many great powers, most notably the Soviet Union and Great Britain, have collaborated in this injustice, just as, if only by their silence, they played havoc with the lives of Jews during the Third Reich and the ensuing Holocaust.

Many Israelis are aware of this history. Many citizens of Tel Aviv are particularly cognizant of the situation of the Palestinians and are concerned about their government’s policies and their country’s future. And none more so than the Tel Aviv creative community. This is exemplified by Israeli films that criticize their government’s behavior, and some startling Israeli theater pieces, such as the Cameri Theatre’s Plonter, seen earlier this year in London. The Israeli peace bloc, Gush Shalom, and many Israeli human rights groups and advocates are based in Tel Aviv. Some 10,000 Israeli citizens demonstrated in Tel Aviv against the military attack on Gaza in January this year, a fact not reported by the BBC World News or CNN.

These citizens of Tel Aviv and their organizations and their cultural outlets should be applauded and encouraged. Their presence and their continued activity is reason alone to celebrate their city. Cultural exchanges almost always involve government channels. This occurs in every country. There is no way around it. We do not agree that this involvement is a reason to shun or protest, picket or boycott, or ban people who are expressing thoughts and confronting grief that, ironically, many of the protesters share.

If attitudes are hardened on both sides, if those who are fighting within their own communities for peace are insulted, where then is the hope? The point finally is not to grandstand but to inch toward a two-state solution and a world in which both nations can exist, perhaps not lovingly, but at least in peace.

The year 2009 is the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Barenboim-Said West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. We hope that those who protest Israeli inclusion in film festivals will take note of this example of the power of art freely expressed and available to all, and reconsider their position.

Vanessa Redgrave
Julian Schnabel
Martin Sherman

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