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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Hannan Fodder: This week, Daniel Hannan gets his excuses in early

I didn't do it. 

Since Daniel Hannan, a formerly obscure MEP, has emerged as the anointed intellectual of the Brexit elite, The Staggers is charting his ascendancy...

When I started this column, there were some nay-sayers talking Britain down by doubting that I was seriously going to write about Daniel Hannan every week. Surely no one could be that obsessed with the activities of one obscure MEP? And surely no politician could say enough ludicrous things to be worthy of such an obsession?

They were wrong, on both counts. Daniel and I are as one on this: Leave and Remain, working hand in glove to deliver on our shared national mission. There’s a lesson there for my fellow Remoaners, I’m sure.

Anyway. It’s week three, and just as I was worrying what I might write this week, Dan has ridden to the rescue by writing not one but two columns making the same argument – using, indeed, many of the exact same phrases (“not a club, but a protection racket”). Like all the most effective political campaigns, Dan has a message of the week.

First up, on Monday, there was this headline, in the conservative American journal, the Washington Examiner:

“Why Brexit should work out for everyone”

And yesterday, there was his column on Conservative Home:

“We will get a good deal – because rational self-interest will overcome the Eurocrats’ fury”

The message of the two columns is straightforward: cooler heads will prevail. Britain wants an amicable separation. The EU needs Britain’s military strength and budget contributions, and both sides want to keep the single market intact.

The Con Home piece makes the further argument that it’s only the Eurocrats who want to be hardline about this. National governments – who have to answer to actual electorates – will be more willing to negotiate.

And so, for all the bluster now, Theresa May and Donald Tusk will be skipping through a meadow, arm in arm, before the year is out.

Before we go any further, I have a confession: I found myself nodding along with some of this. Yes, of course it’s in nobody’s interests to create unnecessary enmity between Britain and the continent. Of course no one will want to crash the economy. Of course.

I’ve been told by friends on the centre-right that Hannan has a compelling, faintly hypnotic quality when he speaks and, in retrospect, this brief moment of finding myself half-agreeing with him scares the living shit out of me. So from this point on, I’d like everyone to keep an eye on me in case I start going weird, and to give me a sharp whack round the back of the head if you ever catch me starting a tweet with the word, “Friends-”.

Anyway. Shortly after reading things, reality began to dawn for me in a way it apparently hasn’t for Daniel Hannan, and I began cataloguing the ways in which his argument is stupid.

Problem number one: Remarkably for a man who’s been in the European Parliament for nearly two decades, he’s misunderstood the EU. He notes that “deeper integration can be more like a religious dogma than a political creed”, but entirely misses the reason for this. For many Europeans, especially those from countries which didn’t have as much fun in the Second World War as Britain did, the EU, for all its myriad flaws, is something to which they feel an emotional attachment: not their country, but not something entirely separate from it either.

Consequently, it’s neither a club, nor a “protection racket”: it’s more akin to a family. A rational and sensible Brexit will be difficult for the exact same reasons that so few divorcing couples rationally agree not to bother wasting money on lawyers: because the very act of leaving feels like a betrayal.

Or, to put it more concisely, courtesy of Buzzfeed’s Marie Le Conte:

Problem number two: even if everyone was to negotiate purely in terms of rational interest, our interests are not the same. The over-riding goal of German policy for decades has been to hold the EU together, even if that creates other problems. (Exhibit A: Greece.) So there’s at least a chance that the German leadership will genuinely see deterring more departures as more important than mutual prosperity or a good relationship with Britain.

And France, whose presidential candidates are lining up to give Britain a kicking, is mysteriously not mentioned anywhere in either of Daniel’s columns, presumably because doing so would undermine his argument.

So – the list of priorities Hannan describes may look rational from a British perspective. Unfortunately, though, the people on the other side of the negotiating table won’t have a British perspective.

Problem number three is this line from the Con Home piece:

“Might it truly be more interested in deterring states from leaving than in promoting the welfare of its peoples? If so, there surely can be no further doubt that we were right to opt out.”

If there any rhetorical technique more skin-crawlingly horrible, than, “Your response to my behaviour justifies my behaviour”?

I could go on, about how there’s no reason to think that Daniel’s relatively gentle vision of Brexit is shared by Nigel Farage, UKIP, or a significant number of those who voted Leave. Or about the polls which show that, far from the EU’s response to the referendum pushing more European nations towards the door, support for the union has actually spiked since the referendum – that Britain has become not a beacon of hope but a cautionary tale.

But I’m running out of words, and there’ll be other chances to explore such things. So instead I’m going to end on this:

Hannan’s argument – that only an irrational Europe would not deliver a good Brexit – is remarkably, parodically self-serving. It allows him to believe that, if Brexit goes horribly wrong, well, it must all be the fault of those inflexible Eurocrats, mustn’t it? It can’t possibly be because Brexit was a bad idea in the first place, or because liberal Leavers used nasty, populist ones to achieve their goals.

Read today, there are elements of Hannan’s columns that are compelling, even persuasive. From the perspective of 2020, I fear, they might simply read like one long explanation of why nothing that has happened since will have been his fault.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.