Arrival of three Eastern European leaders in Jerusalem softens the blow from the diplomatic rift with Poland
The inopportune and undiplomatic quote by interim foreign minister Israel Katz of the late prime minister Shamir’s assertions that the Poles are suckled on anti-Semitism at their mothers’ breast has caused Poland to cancel its planned participation in the Visegrad conference in Israel, and as such the conference itself was canceled as well. Nevertheless, the prime ministers of Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic were all having lunch with Israeli PM Netanyahu at his residence earlier today. According to Netanyahu, all three have agreed to open diplomatic missions in Jerusalem. While these missions will not be at the embassy level, this is an important win for Netanyahu after what has began to develop into a diplomatic fiasco of his own doing.
As to the comments by interim FM Katz, after initial support, today there are opposing voices. Likud minister Tzahi Hanegbi characterized Katz’s words as “shameful” and called upon him to apologize before the crisis with Poland became worse. The American embassy in Warsaw has also released a statement calling Katz’s words “inappropriate” for countries that are “close allies” such as Israel and Poland.
In Israel, the gut reaction is always to circle the wagons as far as the Holocaust is concerned and the truth of the matter that one would be hard-pressed to find many Israelis who do not believe that the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Balts, among many others are suckled on anti-Semitism from early childhood. Most dinner table conversations in Israel affirm this sentiment whenever the issue of anti-Semitism is brought up. Nevertheless, the expectation from the diplomatic corps and especially the foreign minister is to use more diplomatic and less offensive language without whitewashing the historical truth. Clearly, Mr. Katz has failed in that task and made the diplomatic crisis with Poland much worse rather than better.
That being said, the arrival of the three Eastern European prime ministers, including the Hungarian Victor Orban is significant because Hungary was Nazi Germany’s ally and an eager participant in the extermination of its Jewry. Furthermore, Mr. Orban’s nationalistic pronouncements and policies are interpreted by some in Israel as a return to the genocidal policies of Hungary’s past. Netanyahu has always tried to ally Israel with the nationalistic element in the European Union, believing that events that took place eight decades ago aside, they are more natural allies for Israel than the big-immigration triumvirate of Germany-France-Britain with their open borders policies and growing Muslim populations. In this, Netanyahu is opposed by elements of the Israeli left and by those for whom the memory of the Holocaust is ever present in today’s realpolitik. Navigating this minefield is no easy task and one can imagine that Katz’s blunt comments did not sit well with the Israeli leader.