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 trouble with a second Brexit referendum

A new vote risks coming too soon for Remainers. But there is an alternative. 

In any given week, a senior political figure will call for a second Brexit referendum (the most recent being David Miliband). It's not hard to see why. EU withdrawal risks proving an act of political and economic self-harm and Leave's victory was narrow (52-48). Had Remain won by a similar margin, the Brexiteers would have immediately demanded a re-run. 

But the obstacles to another vote are significant. Though only 52 per cent backed Brexit, a far larger number (c. 65 per cent) believe the result should be respected. No major party currently supports a second referendum and time is short.

Even if Remainers succeed in securing a vote, it risks being lost. As Theresa May learned to her cost, electorates have a habit of punishing those who force them to polls. "It would simply be too risky," a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Were a second referendum lost, any hope of blocking Brexit, or even softening it, would be ended. 

The vote, as some Remainers note, would also come at the wrong moment. By 2018/19, the UK will, at best, have finalised its divorce terms. A new trade agreement with the EU will take far longer to conclude. Thus, the Brexiteers would be free to paint a false picture of the UK's future relationship. "It would be another half-baked, ill-informed campaign," a Labour MP told me. 

For this reason, as I write in my column this week, an increasing number of Remainers are attracted to an alternative strategy. After a lengthy transition, they argue, voters should be offered a choice between a new EU trade deal and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be a distant memory. The proviso, they add, is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms (rather than ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). 

Rather than publicly proposing this plan, MPs are wisely keeping their counsel. As they know, those who hope to overturn the Brexit result must first be seen to respect it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.