Saturday, 13 May 2028

6) My May 13th Reply to Rabbi Friedman (2 of 3)

From: Paul Barford
Sent: Friday, May 13, 2016 10:59 AM
To Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman,
Principal Rabbi Yotav Eliach

Subject: Rambam Mesivta students: Perpetuating the heritage of hate 2/3

Dear Rabbi Friedman, Rabbi Eliach
For some reason which I cannot fathom, Rabbi Friedman responded to the points I made by raising some other issues, referring to facts generally known which he enjoinders me to answer “honestly”. Well, yes Rabbi, let us have an honest discussion of the facts rather than your prejudices.

1, “Did Polish citizens kill Jews during World War II?
yes. That is a fact, anyone can check it.

2. “How would you explain the various anti-Semitic laws that existed in Poland before World War II- see link below”:
Hmm, I would explain it in the political and demographic situation in my country under “the colonels” after the death of PiƂsudski in 1935. The text to which you link however presents (I have no idea what this “World Future Fund” is) a rather one-sided picture of the legal position of Jews in the Republic of Poland at that time. I am not really all that convinced why some of the laws cited, seen in their original context, are specifically ANTI-semitic. The shop signs and passport issue for example, they affected all groups of shop owners and passport holders. Again, I am not really clear what connection you want to make between a shop sign in Nalewki street in Russian, German, Yiddish or Hebrew and  Nazi concentration camps. 

3. “Didn't Polish citizens (police) kill Jews in Kielce AFTER  WWII?
Yes. This is a repeat of question one. Didn’t the whole horrific thing start because the Jews in that building had guns and started shooting at the police who wanted to enter to search the building? Weren’t the Poles who were identified as the main culprits tried, sentenced and executed?  Your point is?

4. “two first-hand accounts from families of our student population whose grandparents were murdered by Polish citizens when they returned to their villages after surviving concentration camps”.
Hmm. Firstly they can hardly be “first hand accounts” and secondly the ONLY reason you can think of there is rabid anti-semitism? I think these were not the only grandparents who got caught up in the general lawlessness following the end of the War and the turbulence caused by the Soviet takeover.

Next to a site I excavated two decades ago in Podlasie is a clump of trees with an untended grave in it. I was told by villagers that this is where they found the body of a local farmer at the end of 1944 who had been killed by Bolshevik Jews following the advance of the Red Army who robbed him and then burnt his house down before moving on, perhaps to do the same in the next villages they passed through, who knows? This was a period of unimaginable social tensions and evil deeds as well as deprivation and heroism, and surely we can agree that it is a mistake for any one group to claim moral superiority over another based on anecdotal evidence of grievances from a vanished world seven decades ago. There are bad people everywhere, in the USA too, only prejudice sees that they (or their victims) are all of one race, nationality or religion.

5 “Many Holocaust survivors who were born in Poland speak about the anti-Semitism and hatred they experienced from Ukrainians, Latvians, Lithuanians... And their Polish neighbors”.
Read the comments under the You Tube video of your rally. I do not think the clear prejudices of the Rambam Mesivta High School has convinced the younger generation of Poles that Jews like you are anyone they can talk to about the common past. They can see you are deliberately trying to stir up hatred against them with pseudo-history, and yes, I think it perfectly understandable that they are unhappy about it. If you go around saying things like that in Poland, then I don’t think you can be surprised that people will react with hostility.

Tell me, a man with black skin, in the USA in the 1930s and 1940s, never experienced any discrimination from fellow citizens? There were no regulations that affected him but not his white neighbours? Did the average black man or woman have the same social and professional opportunities as the average white man or woman in 1930s America? Or the average Native American? I am sure you will tell me that a black man in America today has exactly the same status as you do, but you will know as well as me that studies repetitively show that in practice in America – despite a black president - there is still discrimination, racial profiling, inequalities in the way the court system treats black and whites. Mr Trump says the most appalling racist things apparently with the approval; of a large sector of the electorate over there. Yet, you and your students shout your mouths off about anti-Semitism seven decades ago (“we will not forget”) against a largely-vanished community in a far off land where most of you have never spent more than a few weeks. I’d like to see some videos showing Rambam activism to deal with more current social issues, a “never again” aimed at the everyday racism around you today, irrespective of what you think (wrongly) any foreign government is doing in its own country.

Societies DO treat identity as important, you do too, identifying as a “Jew” (and probably an American) and it is a basic sociological fact that one of those things that creates group identity is opposition to “the Other”, and stirring up hatred for a variety of motives is the easiest thing in the world – what is yours?

6. “A recent survey of Polish attitudes towards anti-Semitism revealed that over 60% of the Polish population believes that the Jews are involved in a conspiracy to control media and finance. Over 20% still think that Jews drink Christian blood....
You are, I assume, referring to the discussion of the 2014 work of Michal Bilewicz, director of the Centre for Research on Prejudice at the University here. He has been doing some important and necessary work. But I think you take a snippet out of context again. You should be aware that Bilewicz differentiates two different types of antisemitism, the ‘traditional’ anti-judaism which has Medieval roots in Europe generally (and to which the blood libel belongs), and is fairly narrow in its scope.

He also defines a ‘conspiratorial anti-Semitism’, and it is the latter which has the wider extent you quote. This is more related to a popular general tendency (which by no means is restricted to Poland) to favour explanations of the state of the world in conspiracy theories. It must be said that what we see in the Internet supports the view that the USA has a much higher incidence of conspiracy-theory believers of all types than eastern Europe. The US is the home of many of the more notable ones. The “Jewish banker” conspiracy theory has a complex origin (in which an important place is occupied by the Dearborn Independent publication of the forged document, the so-called Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Ford’s The International Jew, the “Franklin prophecy” forgery). The Jew has – by virtue of their specific position in Polish villages and towns in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries – a certain place in the ‘folklore’ of existing traditions and false memories in certain milieus here to which conspiracy theories like this well-fitted. Things are not helped by a rising nationalism (all over Europe) and the fact that several leaders of the anti-Communist movement who became central figures here after 1989 (and are now being attacked by the right wing parties currently in power) were perceived as “Jewish”, above all Adam Michnik, chief editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, the main paper opposed to the Law and Justice government. Hence the perception that “Jews” are behind what its supporters see as misinformation of Polish society by an important segment of the Polish media (but in the last eighteen months since Bilewicz’s work, more important has become the theory that the Polish media are controlled by “The Germans”). It is all very complicated, and it would take quite a lot of untangling to get to the social reasons behind Bilewicz’s bald figures (which, you should also note, have not in themselves gone unchallenged by other academics). 

I see that CNN claims that 49%, roughly half of Americans say racism is "a big problem" in society today  , on a day when George Zimmerman is auctioning off the handgun involved in the 2012 shooting of the young black man Trayvon Martin for walking down a street. Do please tell your students about the Pole Jan Karski and President Roosevelt’s reaction to his report on the holocaust on 23rd July 1943. I do not think it is just to single out one country and shout through a megaphone “You let this happen” when your own president refused to take any steps to prevent it – but simply promised to “deal with the Germans” after the War was over. Tell them about Witold Pilecki too, and the US reaction to his report. The USA “dealt with” Germany through the Marshall Plan, and handing Poland over to the tender mercies of US ally Jozef Stalin. I’d say it is a fairly justified criticism of the US to say of the evil things that happened under Soviet occupation in East Germany and Communist Poland between 1946-1989, “You let this happen”. I really do not see why you think it is at all justified to pick out one distant country for your metaphorical stone throwing when anyone can see that your own has no great record in the same regard. This in no way justifies what happened to Jews, or Poles, decades ago, but I hope you can see why I feel that people like you constantly raking over the coals and adding the fuel of misrepresentation and hatred to inflame divisions is not any feasible way forward. 

Yours sincerely 
Paul Barford 

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