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 campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.