Kaminski, the Jews and the Holocaust

Stephen Pollard gets it wrong - again

I have only just spotted Stephen Pollard's blog from a week ago, on the Jewish Chronicle's website, in which he (over)reacts to a mild criticism I made of one particular point that he made in a Telegraph column defending Michal Kaminski.

Pollard begins:

Mehdi Hasan of the New Statesman just can't stop himself when it comes to discussing Michal Kaminski.

Really? That's news to me. Before the post he refers to, I had not posted at all on Kaminski, and since then I've posted precisely once (and only in passing) on the now-notorious Polish MEP. It is my colleague James Macintyre who has done much of the work on exposing Kaminski's past and highlighting concerns within the Jewish community in Britain and abroad about his alliance with the Tories

Pollard continues:

He manages - surely deliberately - to miss the point...

The line Hasan quotes is in the final paragraph of a 900 word piece, in which I seek to demonstrate that there is no worthwhile evidence of Kaminski being an antisemite...

Yet Hasan does not deal with any of my points refuting the accusation of antisemitism. Not one, even in passing.

I didn't "deliberately" miss the wider point of his piece, I simply alighted on a more interesting one: "Far from being an anti-Semite, Mr Kaminski is about as pro-Israeli an MEP as exists." I happen to think that this is a rather odd and even dangerous argument, and contributes to the blurring of "Israelis" and "Jews", which the likes of Pollard have rightly condemned so often in the past. I also find it odd that the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, who is "more alive than most to anti-Semitism" (his words), should devote an entire column in a national newspaper to defending a man who admittedly, if not a raving anti-Semite himself, has at the very least indulged in some anti-Semitic behaviour for political ends in the not-too-distant past.

Pollard says I fail to deal with his points, not "even in passing". True. As I said, my colleague James Macintyre is the expert on exposing Kaminski. But if he's so keen for my own contribution to the debate, I'll have a quick go.

Pollard claims, in the original Telegraph column:

A further accusation is that, in an interview, he said that he would apologise only if someone "from the Jewish side" apologised for what "the Jews" did during the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland from 1939 to 1941. Mr Kaminski flatly denies this, and no one has produced a shred of evidence to contradict him.

Not true. Here are several "shreds", courtesy of Rajeev Syal and Toby Helm at the Observer:

"I never did an interview," Kaminski insisted, adding that he "never tried to stop" an apology. But investigations by the Observer call those denials into doubt. Residents of Jedwabne at the time - backed by Polish journalists who covered the story - say Kaminski is misrepresenting his past role.

Footage of a television news bulletin from 5 March 2001 shows Kaminski reacting to news that the then President Aleksander Kwasniewski was to issue an apology and saying: "I think that Mr President can apologise but for other things. He should withhold apologies for Jedwabne." The editor in chief of Nasza Polska, Piotr Jakucki, confirmed that Kaminski gave the 2001 interview.

At that time Jedwabne was the focus of international press attention after an American professor, Jan T Gross, published a book, based on the accounts of local people, which concluded that Poles, with the help of some occupying Nazi troops, locked hundreds of Jews into a barn, and set it on fire. But many people in Jedwabne and other parts of Poland, including Kaminski, believed the whole of Poland was being unfairly blamed for an unproven crime.

Maria Kaczynska, then a journalist with Gazeta Wspolczesna, recalls Kaminski's role. "I remember all of this very vividly. I had to be in Jedwabne to write about him. I saw him in Jedwabne. He had a big folder and he pulled out a file, a petition calling on locals not to participate in apologies to the Jews."

Kaminski also flatly denies having been involved in attempts to set up a committee aimed at defending the people of Jedwabne. "I had no involvement with them," he said. However, Stanislaw Michalowski, the town council head at the time, said: "He was trying to set up a committee of Jedwabne defence but he failed." Rafal Pankowski, who edits Never Again, an anti-racist magazine, said it was "incredible and appalling that Kaminski can lead a group in the European parliament that pretends to be mainstream and tolerant".

The Observer also had this quote from Kaminski, from the 2001 interview, confirmed by Piotr Jakucki:

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 will 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.

So Pollard's argument falls down. His defence of Kaminski remains "strange". And it is he who fails to address any of the points that I raised in my post:

1) Isn't it possible to be both pro-Israeli and anti-Semitic a la the BNP?

2) Is it now necessary for all supporters of the Jews and Judaism to be supporters of Israel and Zionism?

3) Didn't Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, write in his "Diaries" that "Anti-Semites will become our surest friends, anti-Semitic countries our allies"?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.