Poland’s Holocaust Law again sours Ties with Israel, Old City Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter is up for renovations, a police officer was wounded last week, and a teenager killed this week at the Gaza border and Israeli-Evangelical bridge builder Rabbi Eckstein died early this month.
Israel, Poland at Odds Over Holocaust, Again
Diplomatic ties between Israel and Poland have soured again after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Poland’s controversial “Holocaust law” during a conference in Warsaw regarding the Middle East.
Catch me up, what’s the Holocaust law?
- The law allows legal action including a fine or up to three years in prison for anyone “who claims that the Polish Nation is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.”
- The bill was passed by Poland’s Senate in late January but still needs to be signed by the president before being a law.
- Israel has been vocally opposed to the bill calling it an attempt to whitewash Poland’s WWII atrocities and complicity with the Nazi regime.
This isn’t the first time Israel and Poland have engaged in a war of words over this debate. When the bill was first introduced in late 2017, Israeli leadership went on the offensive accusing Poland of attempting to revise history to cover up their guilt. Poland softened the sentencing in the bill but retorted that they are not trying to whitewash history, only that they are unfairly blamed for the devastation of Poland’s Jews, especially given that an estimated 2.7 million non-Jewish Poles were killed in the camps as well.
Then, after a torrent of harsh words, all seemed well. Both countries even took out a joint ad in a large German newspaper saying the two nations are united by a "deep, long-lasting friendship" marked by "mutual respect for the identity and historical sensitivity of our tragic past."
But the bill still advanced. Even the significant milestones of the bill’s progression through the legislative process seemed auspicious. First, it was introduced on the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and when the bill passed the Polish Senate on January 26, it coincided with the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
This complicated path led to Netanyahu’s recent comments in Warsaw when he said that Poles did collaborate with the Nazis and that he had never heard of anyone being sued for saying so. Old apologies and reconciliation again forgotten, Poland responded in kind by announcing their prime minister would not attend a summit in Israel, which led to its complete cancelation.
But according to Ha’aretz, Netanyahu’s office then issued a statement that his words had been taken out of context—an odd clarification that claimed that Netanyahu "spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland.”
Despite the meager attempts from both sides to resume normality, the diplomatic spat ensues as weekly reports indicate the frequent summoning of Polish and Israeli diplomats and accusations of racism and anti-Semitism fly.
The full text of the law can be read here, provided by Times of Israel.
55 Million Designated to Renovate Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter
A massive project is planned to renovate the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City that promises to boost tourism and strengthen Israeli sovereignty.
Slated to cost around 200 million NIS or approximately 55 million USD, the project will include the Tiferet Yisrael Synagogue, the Burnt House and the Wohl Archaeological Museum, according to the Jerusalem Post.
"The Jewish Quarter is the ticket to the Old City, and it is time for this part to be more beautiful. I am proud that I had the privilege of making the strategic decision to introduce the Jewish Quarter into our work programs. We will continue to push and support projects in the Jewish Quarter and throughout the Old City," said Jerusalem Minister of Heritage Zeev Elkin.
Palestinian News agency Ma’an News reported that Palestinian activists see the renovation in the Jewish quarter as an Israeli attempt to Judaize Jerusalem, a historically Jewish city.
It’s not only Palestinians, however, who are concerned about projects in the Old City. The Al-Disi Mosque, located on Chabad Street and right at the border of the Jewish quarter has stood abandoned for years, but a private renovation project has Jewish neighbors worried that resumed use of the mosque will ignite tensions between them and local Arabs, according to Ynet News.
Rabbi Efraim Holtzberg of the Old City’s rabbinical council sent a letter to Jerusalem’s chief of police asking him to intervene claiming it could unsettle the fragile peace of the neighborhood.
Weekly Gaza Border Update
As thousands of Gazans rioted and protested at the Gaza border and sparred with the IDF, a teenager was shot and killed by IDF fire during the weekly March of Return protests that have left hundreds dead and thousands wounded in routine, violent clashes.
Around forty other Palestinians were wounded during this week’s violence, some of whom tried throwing grenades and explosive devices into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The casualties of these violent exchanges aren’t one-sided. Last week an Israeli police officer on duty at the Gaza border was lightly wounded by an explosive. In response, the IDF struck two Hamas outposts, and twenty Palestinians were also injured by live fire during the protest, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
Ha’aretz reports that the officer was wounded in the leg by shrapnel when an explosive was thrown at his position. He was evacuated to a hospital for further treatment. The IDF said 11,000 Palestinians came out to protest and riot and 109 of those were injured according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. One Palestinian was arrested while trying to cross the border fence.
More than 220 Palestinians, including many Hamas members and civilians, have been killed by Israeli troops since weekly border demonstrations began in March 2018, according to Reuters, and thousands wounded while one Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper, and several others have been slightly wounded.
Also, on the Gaza side of the border reports came out last week that Hamas seized a shipment of boots at the Kerem Shalom crossing that were allegedly outfitted with tracking devices, according to the Times of Israel. Hamas sources who spoke to a state-run Turkish news agency claimed that the boots were sent in by Israel to “spy on members of the resistance and to follow their movements,” noting they resemble a design favored by terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip.
The source also said that Hamas security forces were carrying out “a precise inspection of the tracking devices in order to… understand how they work.”
Israel-Evangelical Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein Dies at 67
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein suffered a fatal heart attack on February 6 at his home in Jerusalem leaving a legacy of ties between Israel and the U.S. Evangelical community, including billions of dollars raised for Israel, in his wake.
The Israeli-American rabbi founded the philanthropic organization International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which grew to be one of the largest Israeli non-profits and is credited with raising more than $1.5 billion for Israel mainly from evangelical Christians abroad.
A New York Times obituary of Rabbi Eckstein called him a “Zionist and social activist” often described as a bridge builder between Israel and global allies in Christianity.
Eckstein got his start in fostering those ties in the 1990s with his “On Wings of Eagles” project, raising money through television infomercials that focused on raising funds for vulnerable Jews to move to Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu honored Rabbi Eckstein after his death, saying he had “worked tirelessly to benefit the citizens of Israel and to strengthen the bond between Christian communities and the State of Israel.”
In a 2005 profile of Rabbi Eckstein in The New York Times Magazine, his biographer, Zev Chafets wrote that “no Jew since Jesus has commanded this kind of gentile following.”