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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Labour can be populist and English without copying Donald Trump

There's nothing deplorable about discussing the common interests of the people.

As Labour’s new populism gears up for Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent, it will be tested on voters who are, by a significant measure, more likely to see themselves as English. In the 2011 census, both constituencies scored "English" identity nearly 10 per cent higher than the English average and still 5 per cent higher than England outside of London.

It’s no surprise that both Ukip and the Tories have polled well in these places. In the 2015 general election there was strong correlation between feeling "English", or feeling "more English than British", and voting Ukip and Conservative. Indeed, amongst the "English not British" Ukip took about a third of the votes across England, and the Tories a fifth. Labour lagged below 15 per cent.

Labour’s problems may be getting worse. A recent YouGov poll, commissioned by the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University, showed "Englishness" gaining at the expense of "Britishness" in the year of Brexit. At the extremes, "English not British" rose by 5 per cent (from 14 per cent to 19 per cent), with ‘British not English’ falling by a similar amount. If past relationships hold, these voters will become harder for Labour to reach.

Although most people in England would favour an English Parliament, or English MPs alone voting on English issues, these have not yet become the political demands of an explicit nationalism as we might find in Wales, Scotland or Catalonia. Indeed, there’s no actual evidence of a direct link between feeling English and the way people vote. It well be that the underlying factors that make someone feel English are also those that incline them, overwhelmingly, to vote Brexit or to support Ukip.

We may identify the drivers of English identity - the declining power of the idea of Britain, the assertiveness of devolution, rapid migration and the EU - but we know little about the idea of England than lies behind these polls. There’s almost certainly more than one: the England of Stoke Central imaginations may not be identical to the Twickenham RFU car park on international day.

One of the most persistent and perceptive observers of alienated working class voters sheds some light on why these voters are turning towards their English roots. According to The Guardian’s John Harris:

"When a lot of people said ‘I’m English’, they often meant something like, ‘I’m not middle class, and I don’t want to be…. I’m also white, and coupled with the fact that I’m working class, I feel that somehow that puts me at the bottom of the heap, not least in the context of immigration. But I am who I am, and I’m not apologising for it.'" People who said "I’m English" seemed to be saying, 'I’m from somewhere' in a ways that politicians and the media did not."

Given Labour’s history in seats where support is ebbing away, it’s reasonable to think that the party’s target must be the voters who Martin Baxter of Electoral Calculus describes as "left-wing nationalists". In this definition, "left-wing" attitudes tend to be be anti-capitalist, hostile to business, generous on benefits, support the welfare state and redistributive taxation. "Nationalist" attitudes are seen as isolationist, against immigration, disliking EU freedom of movement, thinking British means "born here" and that Britons should be put first.

For many in Labour, those nationalist attitudes might bring "a basket of deplorables" to mind.  In recent days both the Corbyn left, and centrist MPs like Alison McGovern and Wes Streeting, have warned against meeting these voters’ concerns. Progressive Labour populists must also calm those fears. But Labour will be doomed as a party of government it it can’t reach these voters (even if it does hang on in the forthcoming by-elections). The obstacles are formidable, but with the right language and framing, Labour may find an appeal that could cut through without alienating the party's more liberal support.

Just acknowledging that England, and the English, exist would be a start. The reaction to Birmingham mayoral candidate Sion Simon’s appeal to England in a campaign tweet simply emphasised how much of Labour prefers to say Britain, even when they mean England. We don’t need a swirl of St George crosses at every event; we just need to use the word in normal everyday conversation. At least we would sound like we live in the same country.

The defiant cry to be recognised and heard should trigger another Labour instinct. The demand that the nation should be run in the common interests of the people runs deep through radical history. Jeremy Corbyn reached for this with his talk of "elites rigging the system". But no ordinary English conversation ever talks about elites. Instead of "mini-me Trumpism", English Labour populism needs careful framing in the language of day-to-day talk. Labour's target should be not be the wealthy per se, but those powerful people whose behaviour undermines the national interest and by doing so undermines the rest of us.

This language of national interest, both conservatively patriotic and politically radical, meets the mood of the moment. The select committee challenges to Amazon, Google, Philip Green and Mike Ashley struck a chord precisely because they revealed something deeply true and unpleasant about this land. We can defend the national interest without invoking a racist response. Why are our railways sold to other governments, and our companies sold abroad for quick profit? Why should it be easier for a foreign gangster to buy a house in Surrey, and hide their ownership overseas, than for an English family to get their own home?

By asking what any change means to the people of England, we might bridge the divide on immigration. If the impact of migration is exacerbated by the pressure on housing and service, let Labour make it clear that the rate of immigration should not exceed the pace we can build homes for those already here, as well as any newcomers. The government must be able to expand services to meet additional needs. If every policy should work in the interests of the people of England, migration which improves our services, creates jobs and grows the economy is to be welcomed. It is hard to see a genuine liberal objection to posing the migration challenge in that way. With the exception of refugees, immigration policy cannot be designed to benefit the migrant more than the resident.

Let the test of every policy be whether it works in the interests of the people of England, or works only for a few. That’s a simple test that would appeal to widely shared values. It could be the foundation of a genuine Labour populism that speaks to England.

 

John Denham was a Labour MP from 1992 to 2015, and a Secretary of State 2007 to 2010. He is Director of the Centre for English Identity and Politics at Winchester University