Poland and the Nazi Death Camps and Fake News

Agnon - Das Buch der Polnischen JudenThe News has been full of reports that Poland is criminalizing any mention of Poles being involved in the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.

According to Ha’aretz, “Polish Parliament’s Lower House Votes to Criminalize Mention of Polish Crimes in the Holocaust” (28 January 2018). According to the Times of Israel (27 January 2018), Yad Vashem protested that “restrictions on statements by scholars and others regarding the Polish people’s direct or indirect complicity with the crimes committed on their land during the Holocaust are a serious distortion” of the Holocaust. The same report records Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu as responding with the quip, “History cannot be re-written. The Holocaust cannot be denied.” Netanyahu later added that Israel had “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust” (The Telegraph, UK, 29 January 2018).

But all of these statements are highly misleading. The Polish legislation does nothing to stop people discussing the role of individual Poles in the Holocaust. The amendment is restricted to prohibit calling the actions of Nazi Germany in the Holocaust as actions of the “Polish State” or “Polish Nation”.

The legislation (Druk nr 806) introduces amendments to the Institute of National Remembrance Act (Instytucie Pamięci Narodowej). Article 55A(1) introduces a fine or prison sentence for anyone who

“ascribes to the Polish Nation or to the Polish State responsibility or co-responsibility for the Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich”.

So the amendment does not apply to those who blame individual Poles for individual acts of collaboration with the Nazis. The scale of the involvement of Poles in the Holocaust is a matter of ongoing historical debate. Polish authorities tend to emphasize the role of those who assisted Jews during the German occupation, and minimize the role of those Poles who were complicit. Others have less favourable opinions of Polish involvement in the Nazi Holocaust. Yet this debate will still be allowed under the legislation, as the legislative amendments don’t apply to this debate. In addition, there is an explicit exemption even for attributing it to the Polish Nation or State, for “artistic or academic activity” (Article 55A(3)).

What the Polish legislation does deal with is the false attribution of the German Holocaust to the Polish Nation or State. This is beyond doubt, as the Polish State did not in fact exist after the German takeover during WWII, except in exile. Poles have been understandably upset that the German death camps have been regularly, but misleadingly, referred to as “Polish death camps” – including in a 2012 speech by the US President Barack Obama. They are especially aggrieved given the fact that 6 million Poles died at the hands of the German Nazis, including 3 million Jewish Poles and 3 million non-Jewish Poles.

As recently as 29 June 2017, Israel agreed that the description “Polish death camps” was incorrect. On that date, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (of which Israel is a member) adopted a statement that the use of the terms “Polish camps” and “Polish death camps” was “historically unsupportable”.

So Israel last year agreed that the term “Polish Death Camps” contravenes the Stockholm Declaration’s requirement to tell the truth of the Holocaust and to avoid denial and distortion. But now that Poland has made the very phrase “Polish Death Camps” illegal, Israel has taken the opposite stance, interpreting the Polish legislation as itself being a “denial of the Holocaust”.

The Israeli response is, at least, a badly judged response based on poor news reporting. I have read dozens of news reports on the controversy which has arisen in the last few days. None of them quote the actual legislation at the heart of the matter. That journalistic failure has led directly to Israel’s misguided opposition to the Polish legislation.


How Tall is Bashar Al-Assad compared to Goliath?

Is Bashar Al-Assad taller than Goliath?

Goliath versus Bashar Al-Assad

No. The President of Syria is 6’2½” (189cm), which is about half a foot (13cm) shorter than Goliath.

Note: In the various manuscripts of 1 Samuel 17, Goliath’s height ranges from 4½ cubits (6’8″ or 202cm) to 6½ cubits (9’7″ or 293cm). However, the earliest manuscripts have Goliath’s height at 4½ cubits, and this was at a time when the height of your average “Israelite” would have been 3½ cubits (5’3″ or 162cm). Therefore, the manuscripts which put Goliath’s height at 6½ cubits probably reflect a later exaggeration. The “cubit” was not an exact measure, but referred to the length of the forearm – from the elbow to the tip of the finger. But we have assumed for the purposes of making this comparison that one cubit = 45cm (just under 18″).

Max Blumenthal on the Banality of Racism and Violence in Israel

Amy Goodman, of Democracy Now, interviews Max Blumenthal on his latest book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel.

The full transcripts, videos, and mp3s (for part 1 and part 2) of the interview are available on Democracy Now.

But here are a few snippets. On the “banality” of racism in contemporary Israel:

AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by in your research for your book Goliath?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: I was most surprised at the banality of the racism and violence that I witnessed and how it’s so—it’s so widely tolerated, because it’s so common. And I’m most surprised that, you know, in my reporting on this, it hasn’t made its way to the American public. And so, that’s why I did this book. When we hear about this kind of daily violence, you don’t read about it on the pages of The New York Times. And I really asked myself why, and that’s why I set out to do this endeavor, this journalistic endeavor, to paint this intimate portrait of Israeli society for Americans who don’t see what it really is.

On the influence of U.S, Christian Zionist support on Israeli policies:

MAX BLUMENTHAL: We can see the Republicanization of pro-Israel support in the recent Pew poll of Jewish attitudes, where 82 percent of evangelicals believe that Israel is the promised land, that it was given to the Jews by God. Only 16 percent of secular Jews believe this. And so there’s—so the future base of Israel, as long as it’s under the control of people like Netanyahu and those to his right, like Naftali Bennett, is the Bible Belt. That’s Israel’s safety belt, Christian Zionism. And so, this is a dynamic that’s really going to develop in American foreign policy and play out in the next presidential campaign.

On choosing the title of his book:

AMY GOODMAN: Goliath, the title, how did you choose it?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, I chose it because of the biblical tale of David and Goliath, and also because my editors forced me to choose it. And I think it’s a good title, especially because my last book, Republican Gomorrah, has, you know, biblical resonances and begins with the letter G. But there’s an interesting quote in my book. There’s a person I quote in my book who is the first Jewish ambassador of the United Kingdom to Israel, Matthew Gould. And he went on Israeli TV, and he said, “You’re obsessed with these hasbara, or propaganda, efforts to explain your position to the world and to cover everything up. You have to recognize that Israel is now seen as the Goliath, and Palestinians are seen as the David. Cut the hasbara, the propaganda, out, and end the occupation. Maybe then you won’t be seen that way.” And that’s the problem. That’s the problem with Netanyahu. It’s the problem in Israeli society. This occupation will not end as long as this current system is intact. And so, I think Goliath is the perfect title.

Part 1:

Blumenthal - Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel 1

Part 2:

Blumenthal - Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel 2

Misquoting Jesus – Fishes or Penises?

The Gospel of Mark 6:38-44 relates the account of Jesus’s multiplication of the loaves and fish:

And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.”

When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.”

Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.

Recently the President of Venezuela, Según Maduro, pushed for schools to multiply, “just like Christ multiplied the fishes”, but accidentally said “just like Christ multiplied the penises”. That’s easier to do in Spanish than in English, though:

In commenting on plans to expand and improve access to education, Maduro made allusion to the Biblical miracle of the seven loaves and fish, but misspoke: instead of the Spanish word for fishes (“peces“), the Venezuelan president said “penes“, meaning “penises“.

Dressed in an Adidas track suit in the bright red, blue and yellow colors of the Venezuelan flag, Maduro told the audience, “We need to go in school by school, student by student, high school by high school, community by community, get in there, multiply ourselves, just like Christ multiplied the penises – “, realizing his mistake, he paused to correct himself, ” – pardon me, the fishes and the loaves. Pardon the expression. Just like Christ multiplied the loaves and the fish.”

– “Nicolas Maduro Verbal Gaffe: Venezuelan President Pushes For Schools To Multiply ‘Just Like Christ Multiplied The Penises’”, Latin Times, 28 August 2013

But the misquoting of Jesus continues, this week. Here’s how the Gospel of Luke 14:12-14 quotes Jesus: “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” But this week some members of the Republican Party in the U.S. accidentally misquoted Jesus’s words, here, as “Fuck the poor”.


Keith Whitelam on Obama’s Speeches in Israel

Following Remnant of Giants‘ examination of Obama’s opening speech in Israel as buying into Israeli and biblical founding myths, Keith Whitelam comments on what Obama has been saying about Israelis, and what he hasn’t been saying about Palestinians:

Keith Whitelam - Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine's PastThe references to ‘our ancient homeland’, ‘our ancient capital’, the story of the exodus, ‘the promised land’ or the use of the Dead Sea Scrolls as a title deed to the land in the speeches of Obama, Peres and Netanyahu show why it is so important to challenge this biblical view of history. It is constantly used to justify Israel’s claim to the land and resonates powerful with Israeli, American and western audiences. It is used to deny Palestine’s connection to the past and undermines any claims to the present.

There is no mention in Obama’s speeches to Palestine’s past. The cultural struggle for an alternative history of Palestine that shows how the past is connected to the present is crucial in countering the biblical view of history.

– Keith W. Whitelam, Keith W. Whitelam Facebook page, 22 March 2013

Whitelam is a former biblical studies professor at the University of Sheffield and, most recently, the author of  Rhythms of Time: Reconnecting Palestine’s Past (BenBlackBooks, 2013) – which was reviewed by Remnant of Giants here.

H/t: Jim West, “Keith Whitelam: Right on Obama’s Visit to Israel

Obama’s Opening Speech in Israel Sounds Strangely Familiar – Oh yes, remember Bibi Netanyahu’s speech before Congress in the US?

Obama at Ben Gurion Airport

No sooner had US President Barack Obama touched the ground at Ben Gurion Airport, than he commenced this speech:


President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and most of all, to the people of Israel, thank you for this incredibly warm welcome. This is my third visit to Israel so let me just say tov lihiyot shuv ba’aretz.

I’m so honored to be here as you prepare to celebrate the 65th anniversary of a free and independent State of Israel. Yet I know that in stepping foot on this land, I walk with you on the historic homeland of the Jewish people.

More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history.

Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be “masters of their own fate” in “their own sovereign state.” And just as we have for these past 65 years, the United States is proud to stand with you as your strongest ally and your greatest friend.

– Barack Obama, in “Full text of Obama’s speech on arrival in Israel”, The Times of Israel, 20 March 2013

Now, there is much in here that a critical biblical scholar might take issue with.

Have “the Jewish people” really lived in the region for “more than 3,000 years”? No. A people known as Judeans did live in the land from perhaps the early part of the first millennium BC to the early Common Era. And they did so alongside many other peoples, many of whom have come and gone, including the Philistines (or residents of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron and Gath), the Edomites/Idumaeans, Romans, and Arabs (including Nabataeans). Moreover, the Judeans never occupied all the region now occupied by the modern state of Israel, including Tel Aviv, where Obama delivered his speech.

Did “the Jewish people” pray to God there for more than 3000 years? No. Not if you mean by God, with a capital letter, or the monotheistic concept of later Jews. In the early period of Judean settlement of the southern hill country and northern Negev, the inscriptions from various sites and the Elephantine correspondence (around 400 BC), written before much of the Bible was written, show that Judeans worshipped a number of gods and goddesses. Before this, even Yahweh (later identified as the monotheistic “God”) was worshipped alongside his divine consort or wife, named Asherah.

Are “the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah” fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be ‘masters of their own fate’ in ‘their own sovereign state'”. No. Almost everything is wrong with this. First, no Abraham or Sarah ever existed, except in legendary tales. Second, if you’ve read the Bible, you might note that “the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah” comprises a much more inclusive group than the Jews of the “Jewish State of Israel”. The sons of Abraham and daughters of Sarah include, for example, Ishmael (Abraham’s first son), the alleged ancestor of all Arabs. Given that the Bible makes Ishmael older than Judah (the eponymous ancestor of the Jews), why haven’t their “dreams of the ages” to have “their own sovereign state” been fulfilled? Third, the “dream” of a sovereign Jewish state is not “the dream of the ages”. It was only a dream of some Jews in the nineteenth century onwards, under the influence of European concepts of national sovereignty and Christian concepts of divine election and manifest destiny. And many Jews today still oppose the idea of a sovereign state in Palestine.

But this propaganda sounds all very familiar. Oh yes – remember the speech by Bibi Netanyahu to Congress in the US in 2011?

We’re not the British in India. We’re not the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one god, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw his vision of eternal peace.
– Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, in Jonathan Lis, “The facts and fictions of Netanyahu’s address to Congress”Ha’aretz, 26 May 2011

I guess when you’re planning a war against Iran “to preserve our freedom” (as Obama alludes to the Bush Doctrine in his speech) the facts will only get in the way of shoring up political alliances.

Chavez Election Rival says ‘We must defeat Goliath’

This just in from the big election battle of 2012, in Venezuela:

CARACAS: Venezuelan opposition candidate Henrique Capriles described his election battle with President Hugo Chavez in biblical terms on Wednesday, saying he was David fighting against Goliath.

“We must defeat Goliath, and each one of you is David,” the underdog challenger told a rally in San Felipe, a city in the western state of Yaracuy, ahead of the October 7 presidential election.

“I am David, but each one of you is David too,” Capriles said, referring to the boy who felled the giant Philistine warrior with a slingshot and then became king of Israel.

– Abdul Ahad, “Chavez Election Rival says ‘We must defeat Goliath'”, Business Recorder, 27 September 2012

"Who threw that fucking pebble at me?" asks Hugo Chavez, as his election battle with Henrique Capriles gets biblical
“Who threw that fucking pebble at me?” asks Hugo Chavez, as his election battle with Henrique Capriles gets biblical

The entry for “Goliath” in the forthcoming Dictionary of the Bible and Western Culture (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2012; ed. Mary Ann Beavis and Michael J. Gilmour) explains this use of the “David and Goliath metaphor:

“In modern usage, a ‘David and Goliath struggle’ is proverbial for a seemingly unequal contest between an overpowering opponent and a small but courageous contender. Ann Fairbairn, in Five Smooth Stones (1966), portrays the American Civil Rights Movement as a struggle against the Goliath of racism, fought by a protagonist named David. The David and Goliath metaphor has frequently been employed to provoke sympathy for a heroic Israeli underdog against a surrounding Arab coalition — despite Israel’s overwhelming military superiority since 1948.”

The Catholic Henrique Capriles, descendent of Jewish holocaust survivors, supports a return to the neoliberal policies that currently dominate the global economy. He also describes himself as being “centre-left”, a facade which seems consistent with describing himself as little David against the big, mean Goliath.