Israeli PM criticized for wooing Holocaust-distorting allies

January 31, 2019

Above photos: Jews being publically humiliated and beaten in Lviv (Lwow) by Ukrainian allies of the Nazis in June 1941 before being raped and shot dead. Over 4,000 Jews were killed in this particular two day Ukrainian pogrom.


Above: In New Year’s rallies this month in Lviv and Kiev on January 1, 2019, (pictured above) thousands celebrated the birthday of Stepan Bandera, whose followers carried out the 1941 Lviv pogrom as well as mass killings of tens of thousands of other Jews. Ukrainian politicians spoke in favor of Bandera at the rallies. Below, one of many mass shootings of Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.




[Note by Tom Gross]

Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is being criticized for rolling out the red carpet last week for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, whose parliament this month designated the birthday of Ukrainian wartime Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera a national holiday. Bandera’s forces murdered thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. The regional legislature in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv has declared 2019 “the year of Stepan Bandera” and held torchlit parades in his honor – a move that has been criticized in Poland, Canada and Israel but not elsewhere.

As Poroshenko was visiting Israel last week, another memorial was being erected in Kiev for Symon Petliura, whose militia murdered 50,000 Jews after World War I. Netanyahu failed to mention this during Poroshenko’s visit.



I attach three articles on this subject below from today and yesterday – by Sam Sokol in The Times of Israel / JTA, by the Associated Press news agency, and by Lahav Harkov in the New York-based Tablet magazine.

I am quoted towards the end of the first article. Even though I say something a little different from the others quoted in the article, I would like to emphasize that I agree with their views too.

Israel can carry out Realpolitik without distorting Holocaust memory.

Netanyahu (and other Israeli and Western leaders) could and should have taken a more forceful stance to visiting leaders from Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland and Hungary, all of whom are actively allowing or encouraging distortion of their own countries role in perpetrating the Holocaust.

However, one might add that Israel for decades has maintained good relations with Western countries such as France and the Netherlands, which have also been slow to admit their significant role in the deportations of their Jewish populations to death camps (although the leaders of Western countries don’t today celebrate wartime Nazi collaborators).

-- Tom Gross




Holocaust scholars worry that memory is a victim of Israel’s warming ties with Eastern Europe
By Sam Sokol
JTA / Times of Israel
January 29, 2019

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to establish close ties with the European Union’s Central European members has met with pushback from a perhaps unlikely source: Holocaust historians and activists protective of Israel’s role in preserving the memories of the Nazis’ victims.

Netanyahu has justified his outreach to leaders in countries like Poland and Hungary as a way to counterbalance the E.U.’s more Palestinian-friendly western states.

But his critics say he may be sacrificing efforts to counter Holocaust revisionism, especially by leaders who are trying to downplay their countries’ complicity with the Germans in World War II.

“In recent years, some European governments try to present, and even force, a historical picture which is very different than the one well known based on documentation and on historical research,” Havi Dreifuss, a historian of the Holocaust in Eastern Europe at Tel Aviv University, told JTA.

“We see those phenomena mainly, but not only, regarding the assistance of locals to Nazi Germany murderous acts. It is most disturbing when there is no correction or comment from the Israeli side especially when these distorted narratives are part of an attempt to shape the public sphere and the public discourse,” said Dreifuss. “When Israel does not clearly correct these historical distortions it is very concerning, because it is not only history that shapes the past but also the public debate.”

On Monday, with the announcement that the Visegrád Group’s next summit will be held in Jerusalem, Netanyahu felt Israel had much to celebrate.

An alliance of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia, the Visegrád Group represents the nationalist and conservative wing of the European Union. Gaining their support in the international arena should count as an uncontested diplomatic coup.

However, some in Israel see Netanyahu’s political triumph as deeply problematic.

In a scathing condemnation, Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, tweeted that the summit will feature a “prime minister who passed a law that humiliates the memory of Holocaust victims and a prime minister who publishes anti-Semitic content.”

Lapid was apparently referring to Prime Minsiter Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, who signed legislation last year making it a crime to hold Poland responsible for Nazi crimes. Hungary’s Viktor Orban, meanwhile, was accused of using anti-Semitic dog whistles in a campaign against Jewish philanthropist and pro-democracy activist George Soros.

“It is the loss of all national pride and causes us damage in the international arena,” Lapid continued. “The prime minister must overcome his passion for election photography and cancel it.”

The increasingly close relations between Jerusalem and countries such as Hungary and Poland have liberals here worried because both countries’ governments have taken steps to undermine independent institutions and the press. Both European countries are seen as rolling back the process of democratization begun after the fall of communism.

But the specter of World War II casts a distinct shadow in the Jewish state. According to a study released last week by researchers from Yale University and Grinnell College, Holocaust revisionism has been on the rise in Europe. Some of the worst offenders were found in Poland and Hungary.

“Holocaust remembrance is under clear threat in Poland,” according to the report.

Netanyahu has taken notice. Responding to the public outcry in Israel and around the world over Poland’s “Holocaust law,” Netanyahu condemned the legislation, stating that Israel had “no tolerance for distorting the truth, historical revisionism, or Holocaust denial.”

However, as relations between Warsaw and Jerusalem hit a new low, Netanyahu became conciliator, releasing a joint statement with Morawiecki claiming that “that structures of the Polish Underground State supervised by the Polish Government-in-Exile created a mechanism of systematic help and support to Jewish people.”

The pronouncement was widely panned by historians. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust authority, issued an unprecedented statement criticizing Netanyahu’s “grave errors and deceptions.”

Netanyahu has also come under fire for praising Orban for “preserving the memory of the past” despite the Hungarian prime minister’s public praise for wartime leader and Nazi ally Miklós Horthy, as well as the anti-Soros campaign.

Jerusalem has also ignored Holocaust distortion among non-EU allies on the continent, critics charge. Last week Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited Jerusalem for the signing of a free trade agreement that had been in the works for several years.

The visit was an “absolute disaster” from the perspective of “dealing with Holocaust distortion and the fight against anti-Semitism,” claimed Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He said Netanyahu failed to publicly address Kiev’s official policy of rehabilitating local Nazi collaborators who had participated in the murder of Jews and Poles.

“I have no reason to believe that [this week’s] visit of the Lithuanian Prime Minister [Saulius Skvernelis] will be any different,” he continued. “As many people recall, when Netanyahu visited Lithuania in the fall, not only did he not criticize the Lithuanian government for its efforts to distort the Holocaust but he actually praised them for the manner in which they commemorated the Shoah. This is the problem. Israel and Netanyahu have knowingly abandoned their role as the defenders of the memory of the Holocaust.”

Israel’s failure to protest the passage of a 2015 bill honoring Ukrainian nationalists who murdered Jews was disappointing, said Eduard Dolinsky, the Kiev-based director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, an advocacy group. While it was a “big deal” when Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke out against honoring collaborators during a speech a year and a half later, Dolinsky believed that more should have been done.

“Israel should react stronger when the Holocaust is distorted and Nazi collaborators are glorified,” he said. “We expected that Israel would react. The matter is that Ukrainian government agencies and organizations involved in the process of glorification are closely watching what Israel would say. Therefore when Israel is silent they can go forward and ignore the Jewish community statements. I don’t want to criticize Israel, but her reaction could be stronger and sharper.”

Yehuda Bauer, one of Israel’s most respected Holocaust scholars, told JTA that “the distortion of Holocaust memory and the facts of the Holocaust by official authorities in Poland, Hungary, Ukraine and Lithuania in different forms has been accepted by the the Israeli government.”

Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar at Atlanta’s Emory University and the author of a memoir about her own fight against Holocaust denial, is also wary of the new alliances.

“I think that, possibly for reasons of realpolitik, Israel has been a bit malleable when it comes to overtly anti-Semitic actions by countries such as Hungary [and] Poland,” she said. “These countries may vote in favor of Israel in international bodies, but I think it is a dangerous game to give them a pass on their anti-Semitic actions.”

Closer to home, a Knesset member who chairs a lobby on anti-Semitism in the former Soviet Union says it is incredibly difficult to get the government to speak out on such issues.

“I’ve sent dozens of letters that were addressed to heads of embassies and heads of states and not even once did the Foreign Ministry became active and join me in [my] condemnation,” said Ksenia Svetlova of the opposition Zionist Union. “I would hate to think that anti-Semitism and Holocaust and historical memory became nothing more than cheap change in the political game but it seems to me that it is increasingly becoming so.”


Such sentiments are far from universal, however. Some analysts insist that the issue is more nuanced than Netanyahu’s detractors believe.

“The state of Israel, like every other state, often has little choice but to establish ties with countries with less-than-perfect human rights records such as Egypt, which allows an uncomfortable amount of anti-Semitism in semi-government-controlled media,” said Tom Gross, a journalist and Mideast analyst.

“I would say that from what I know of Netanyahu, he is not insensitive and cares greatly about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and is fully aware of the minefield he is in,” added Gross. “The government of Israel has to balance all kinds of considerations,” one of the primary ones being its own security.

However, said Gross, that does not mean that issues of commemoration should necessarily fall by the wayside and in the case of a country like Ukraine “the Netanyahu government should have done more.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry disagreed. A spokesman told JTA that “broadly speaking, and this is Israel’s policy, we will not relinquish historical memory in favor of other interests. This has always been our position.”

This position was echoed by Joel Lion, Israel’s recently appointed ambassador to Ukraine. Notably, he has been significantly more outspoken on revisionism than most other officials on this issue.

Dore Gold, a former director-general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under Netanyahu and the current President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, also defended the government.

“My view is that the memory of the Holocaust is a constant Israeli policy, whether it’s foreign or educational policy, and it’s not an issue we can compromise on in any way, shape or form, but whether the accusations made about Israel somehow sacrificing that memory for purposes of realpolitik are highly questionable,” Gold told JTA.

But even some on the moderate right who support realpolitik in foreign policy have expressed reservations about Netanyahu’s approach.

While “one does not shy away from necessary things,” politics cannot be “totally devoid of moral values,” said Dan Meridor, who served as Netanyahu’s Deputy Prime Minister between 2009-2013. He currently heads the Israel Council on Foreign Relations, a Jerusalem think tank affiliated with the World Jewish Congress.

In extreme cases where anti-Semitism is perceived, such as Orban’s anti-Soros campaigns, “you should say something about it.”



Israel leader scorned for wooing Holocaust-distorting allies
Associated Press
January 30, 2019

JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warm welcome to Lithuania’s prime minister marks his latest embrace of an eastern European leader who has offered strong political support while promoting a distorted image of the Holocaust.

Lithuania is among a slew of former communist nations swept up in a wave of World War II-era revisionism that seeks to diminish their culpability in the Holocaust while making heroes out of anti-Soviet nationalists involved in the mass killing of Jews. In Israel, established in the wake of the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews, many say Netanyahu is cynically betraying the victims’ memory.

Lithuania, for instance, has been a leading force behind creating a joint memorial day for all victims of totalitarianism, blurring the distinction between the crimes of the Nazis and the communists who fought them.

It also has pushed for legislation to prohibit the sale of books that “distort Lithuanian history” by citing the rampant, documented collaboration of the local population with Nazis. Most recently it has resisted calls to remove the various plaques commemorating anti-Soviet fighter Jonas Noreika, despite recent revelations by his own granddaughter, Silvia Foti, that he was a fierce anti-Semite who had a role in the murder of thousands of Jews.

Nearly all of Lithuania’s 200,000 Jews were killed in the Holocaust.

When Netanyahu, who has Lithuanian roots, visited Vilnius last year, he praised Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis for taking “great steps to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust” and for fighting modern-day anti-Semitism.

“It’s unforgivable. Netanyahu is giving them a green light,” said Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “It’s like praising the Ku Klux Klan for improving racial relations in the South.”

“We have to say the truth. We owe it to the victims,” he added.

In a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday, Skvernelis said “Lithuania has been learning the lessons of the past” and was “improving the life of the Jewish community and restoring historical sites.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Netanyahu treaded cautiously. He referred to the “tragedies of the past” but steered clear of any criticism of modern Lithuania, praising the “spirit of friendship” and “a bridge from the past to a future.”

Skvernelis’ visit comes a week after Netanyahu similarly rolled out the red carpet for President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, whose parliament just designated the birthday of Ukrainian wartime Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera a national holiday. A regional legislature declared 2019 “the year of Stepan Bandera.”

Bandera’s forces fought alongside the Nazis and were implicated in the murder of thousands of Jews. As Poroshenko was visiting Israel, another memorial was being erected in Kiev for Symon Petliura, whose troops are linked to pogroms that killed as many as 50,000 Jews after World War I.

Netanyahu’s outreach in eastern Europe is part of his larger strategy of forging alliances to counter the criticism Israel faces in the United Nations and other international forums over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Critics consider it a deal with the devil. They say Netanyahu – who often invokes the Holocaust when inveighing against archrival Iran – turns a blind eye when it comes to like-minded allies.

“It’s a specific maneuver that legitimizes anti-Semitism and borders on Holocaust denial,” said Tamar Zandberg, leader of the dovish Meretz party.

The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Under communist rule, the Holocaust was not seriously dealt with and, upon independence, the newfound eastern and central European nations sought to canonize nationalist icons who resisted the Soviets, while largely ignoring their crimes alongside the Nazis. Domestic academics who have challenged the false narrative have been shamed, and external criticism has often been met with new anti-Semitic outbursts.

For countries like Lithuania and Ukraine, the warm embrace of the Israeli leader provides a strong defense against accusation of anti-Semitism while also strengthening ties with a close U.S. ally.

Netanyahu has also formed a close alliance with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has lavished praise on Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II-era ruler, who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis. Orban has also employed anti-Semitic tropes against the Jewish Hungarian-American billionaire philanthropist George Soros and backed a state-funded museum that experts say plays down the role of Hungarian collaborators.

Netanyahu also struck a deal with Polish leaders over their country’s controversial Holocaust speech law, which would have criminalized blaming the Polish nation for crimes committed against Jews during World War II.

Israeli Holocaust historians slammed the agreement, which seemed to accept a Polish narrative that they were only victims of the Nazis. Scholars say anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in pre-war Poland and Poles might have either killed or helped Germans kill up to 200,000 Jews.

Still, Netanyahu has invited Orban and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – who last year equated Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust to supposed “Jewish perpetrators” – to Israel in February for a summit with the leaders of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party and the son of a Holocaust survivor, called on Netanyahu to cancel the meeting, saying one prime minister has “published anti-Semitic content” and another “passed a law desecrating the memory of Holocaust victims.”

In an annual report Sunday, Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs said 2018 saw a record number of worldwide anti-Semitic attacks, with most carried out by neo-Nazis in Europe and white supremacists.

But at his Cabinet meeting later in the day, Netanyahu singled out “Islamic anti-Semitism and the anti-Semitism of the extreme left, which includes anti-Zionism.”

Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, which hosts all visiting foreign dignitaries, has been thrust into the controversy.

While it says it will never disqualify anyone wishing to visit, Yad Vashem insists it will “forcefully” address any denial or distortion. Yad Vashem said the Lithuanian leader received a comprehensive explanation of the Holocaust, including details about “the murder of Jews of Lithuania by the Nazis and their Lithuanian collaborators.”



Choosing the Right Strongmen Allies

Israel’s alliance with illiberal regimes can be necessary and justified but not when they embolden anti-Semitic dog whistles

By Lahav Harkov
Tablet magazine
January 29, 2019

“Israel’s foreign relations are at a record high,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted in the Knesset in December. “There were 300 visits by [foreign] leaders to Israel this year. Presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, senators, leading members of parliament. A flood … We have great achievements in the world, including the Arab world that we never had before.”

This is a common talking point for Netanyahu, who has claimed repeatedly over the past year that he has expanded Israel’s foreign ties to unprecedented levels. But there is a flipside to it, a recurring theme in criticisms of Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is cozying up to “strongmen.”

From the newly elected Bolsonaro in Brazil, whose inauguration Netanyahu attended this month, to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Polish Premier Mateusz Morawiecki, world leaders are lining up to meet with Netanyahu. In fact, relations have so warmed with Poland and Hungary that their prime ministers are attending a summit in Jerusalem next month, along with the premiers of Czech Republic and Slovakia. Since not all of them are democratically inclined and some are outright human rights abusers and authoritarians, this is supposed to indicate that something is rotten in Jerusalem.

There are two elements at play in the claims of a nefarious new direction in Israel’s foreign policy: One is a pearl-clutching disgust at Netanyahu’s supposed embrace of illiberal regimes; the other concerns relations with leaders whose policies specifically impact Jews and, as has grown increasingly common in Eastern Europe, distort the memory of the Holocaust. An example of the first is Netanyahu’s willingness to engage with the government in the Philippines, which has engaged in extrajudicial executions of alleged drug dealers while Duterte has said he hopes to be to drug abusers what Hitler was to Jews. On the other hand, the Hungarian government, which Netanyahu has also courted as an ally, has engaged in institutional Holocaust revisionism while publicly glorifying Nazi collaborator and former Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy.

A weakness in all this new talk of Netanyahu and strongmen is that it conflates these two categories, mistaking the necessary compromises of conducting international relations, including with nations that have less-than-stellar democratic norms, with the troubling assaults on the legacy of the Holocaust. Moreover, many analysts who lament Israel’s cozying up to strongmen ignore research showing that Eastern European Jews feel safer from anti-Semitism than those in the West, which may be because they perceive the greatest threat to their lives coming from Islamist violence rather than the populist right.

Just over the past few months, there seemed to be a major push against Israel’s increasing alliance with illiberal governments – Palestinians exempted from that category, as usual – a move that started in the Israeli press before migrating to the Jewish diaspora press and from there to the mainstream American media in a big way.

In early December, Michelle Goldberg used her New York Times column to argue that “Israel is evermore willing to ally itself with foreign leaders who share its illiberal nationalism.” The assertion was embedded in a column devoted to defending the political legitimacy of anti-Zionism; in other words, defending the view that the concept of a Jewish nation-state is inherently illegitimate.

Goldberg takes Netanyahu’s ties to Orban, which she calls “particularly close” without any proof or explanation, to indicate that “being pro-Israel and pro-Jewish are not the same thing.” A little less than a month later, an analysis by the Times’ self-proclaimed expert on anti-Semitism, Jonathan Weisman, posited that a growing rift between Israeli and American Jews “may come from the stance that Israel’s leader is taking on the world stage.” At which point Weisman runs through the usual litany of authoritarians Netanyahu has embraced: Orban, Duterte, Bolsonaro and the Polish government.

But another more serious line of criticism has also emerged recently in the wake of news that Israel was negotiating with Orban’s government over the content of a Hungarian Holocaust museum called the “House of Fates.” To the consternation of the local Jewish community, the museum is attempting to whitewash Hungary’s participation in the genocide of European Jewry, including sending 100,000 Jews to forced labor camps, where 40,000 died, and turning 20,000 Jews over to the Nazis, all before the Germans invaded Hungary.

Within days of the announcement, the Times published an article by Israeli journalist Matti Friedman quoting anonymous workers at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, on their discomfort at “right-wing politicians who might stoke animosity to Jews and other minorities at home.”

And shortly after that, The Forward’s Batya Ungar-Sargon lamented “Netanyahu’s crimes against Diaspora Jews” in holding talks with Orban and Morawiecki in an attempt to mitigate those countries’ policies distorting the Holocaust to try to exonerate and even glorify their local populations and leaders during World War II.

But this isn’t the first surge of criticism of Israel’s foreign ties, and it’s not all about the Holocaust. In honor of Duterte’s visit to Israel in September, a column in Bloomberg said, “Strongmen are no problem for Netanyahu,” and the Associated Press described “Netanyahu’s roster of tough-guy pals.”

It is no defense of human rights violators to say that Israel must sometimes hold its nose and keep up ties with strongmen leaders. As Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Avi Dichter – a Likudnik and former Shin Bet chief who could never be accused of being a bleeding heart – said before Duterte visited: “We may have to take a pill against nausea to receive him.”

But there are some too pure for such distasteful compromises. Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg wrote a letter to Netanyahu telling him not to strengthen relations with one of the largest economies in the world because Brazil elected a president from the far right, months before Bolsonaro even began his term.

Yet Zandberg has also been photographed visiting the grave of Yasser Arafat, not a leader known for his exemplary human rights record. And neither she, nor anyone else on the left, has called on Israel to cut ties with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who wrote his dissertation denying the Holocaust, and whose regime jails people for criticizing him online or, God forbid, selling land to Jews.

When Netanyahu visited Oman and other ministers traveled to Abu Dhabi and Dubai this year, suddenly everyone seemed to understand putting realpolitik before an idealistic human rights agenda.

“Generally speaking, of course, we seek to be a light unto the nations, but when you put it into concrete policy, it’s more complicated,” said one senior official who works in Israel’s foreign ministry and spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We’re not in a situation to judge other countries and snub them because we don’t like their governments, or we’d have no relations with 80 percent of the world,” he added.

Expanding Israel’s partnerships around the world staves off the dangers of economic and diplomatic isolation that it faced in the not-so-distant past. And there are still vast swaths of the globe that want nothing to do with the Jewish state and automatically vote against it in any international forum.

However, this still leaves the more serious charge that Israel is endangering diaspora Jewry by normalizing relations with illiberal governments like the one in Hungary and endorsing attempts to whitewash history, like the one carried out last year by the Polish government.

On Jan. 27, 2018, news broke that Poland was passing a law to penalize people for using the phrase “Polish death camps” or suggesting that Poland and Poles were in any way responsible for the Holocaust.

The Israeli government came out strongly against the Polish Holocaust law, leading to a crisis in Israel-Poland ties. It ended five months later when Poland voted to lessen the sentence for people convicted of saying the country was responsible for Nazi crimes by taking prison off the table but keeping the act classified as a crime punishable by fine.

The Polish government ran advertisements in major Israeli newspapers with Netanyahu’s statement announcing the agreement: “I’m pleased that the Polish government … decided today to fully rescind the clauses that were signed and caused a storm and consternation in Israel and among the international community.”

But in the same statement, the prime minister essentially endorsed the underlying position of the Polish law, declaring: “We have always agreed that the term “Polish concentration/death camps” is blatantly erroneous and diminishes the responsibility of Germany for establishing those camps.”

The same issues raised by the Polish law have arisen again with the recent “House of Fates” controversy and Netanyahu’s engagement with Orban’s government.

The Israeli foreign policy official who spoke with Tablet defended his government’s position: “We have no other option but to negotiate and discuss. We don’t accept everything they do or say, but we have to take into account that this is their government. It was the same with the Poland Holocaust memory law, and it may happen with other countries, as well.”

But the issue is not whether to engage, it is whether those countries can then go and say they have Israel’s imprimatur when the result of those talks are inadequate. In the case of Poland, the government in Warsaw ran a victory lap with Netanyahu’s statements.

Something similar happened in 2017 when Orban ran a campaign ad that announced: “Let’s not leave Soros the last laugh.” The reference was to George Soros, the Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor and billionaire who is a major funder of pro-democracy NGOs in post-communist states, but also of far-left political organizations around the world.

Israel’s ambassador to Hungary said the ads were anti-Semitic, as did Hungarian-Jewish leaders. But the Netanyahu-led Foreign Ministry undermined that sentiment by stating that it “deplores any expression of anti-Semitism” but “in no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny its right to defend itself.” Of course, Soros is a legitimate target of criticism but when local Jews are concerned about anti-Semitism, it’s probably not the right time to focus on that point.

At the moment, the only far-right group with any relevance that Israel is boycotting is the Austrian Freedom Party, founded by ex-Nazis, a member of the ruling coalition in Vienna. But ties with the rest of the government remain on track.

In general, it appears that Eastern European Jews may not view their situation in the dire terms used by some of their self-appointed advocates in Israel and the West.

As Evelyn Gordon reported in Commentary in November, a study by the Joint Distribution Committee International Center for Community Development found that 96 percent of the Jewish leaders and professionals polled in Eastern Europe felt safe, as opposed to only 76 percent in Western Europe. In addition, Western Europeans were more than twice as likely to see terrorism and violence against Jews as a threat; 47 percent of them cited it, as opposed to 22 percent of Eastern Europeans.

One possible reason for the discrepancy cited in the study is that anti-Semitic violence in Europe is more likely to come from Muslims, of which there are very few in Eastern Europe – in part because of strict immigration policies enacted by the very right-wing governments that are being called dangerous for Jews. But don’t expect to see that reality acknowledged in the popular moralizing about Netanyahu and strongmen.

The same study also found that 56 percent of Eastern European Jewish leaders were pessimistic about increasing anti-Semitism, while in Western Europe the number jumps to 75%.

Another reason, or at least a correlation, is that 88 percent of Western European Jewish leaders found their media to be hostile to Israel, while only 36 percent said the same in the East. As Gordon noted, “Whenever Israel launches a major counterterrorism operation, anti-Israel sentiment spikes along with anti-Semitic attacks.”

That brings us to why Israel is especially interested in maintaining a positive relationship with Eastern European countries, beyond staving off isolation as mentioned earlier. The European Union is Israel’s biggest trading partner, and the EU’s Western members tend to be more critical of Israel than those in the East, who can help veto policy decisions that may be harmful to Israel.

Eastern Europe is “a good partner that creates a counterbalance to Brussels,” the government source said. “This enables us to deal with Europe without constant criticism. We take it as a positive diplomatic tool, and we don’t judge when we don’t need to.”

This “counterbalance to Brussels” is Jerusalem’s explicit goal in hosting the summit on Feb. 18-19, upgrading ties with the Visegrad states – Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Slovakia – thought to be the most right wing in the EU.

The challenge and moral mandate for Israel’s government is to ensure that in pursuing enhanced relations with countries that can strengthen its security and political position, they’re not endorsing the anti-Semitic dog whistles – or bullhorns – of their governments.


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