Sunday, 13 May 2018

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

From: Paul Barford [ ]
Sent: Friday, May 13, 2016 10:56 AM
To Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman,
Principal Rabbi Yotav Eliach
Subject: Rambam Mesivta students: Perpetuating the heritage of hate 3/3

Dear Rabbi Friedman, Rabbi Eliach

Rabbi Friedman throws in:
The student that said the war began in 1941 was coming at it from an American perspective: for Americans the war began after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Did the student know that the war actually began on September 1, 1939?? I think so” (I would hope as his teacher you would know so).

But of course Yoni was not taken there to protest about American deeds in the war, but about what happened in the specific historical context of the War in a more distant country in Europe and the journalist showed that your students had not the foggiest idea of that context which - in the eyes of any observer who knows a bit more about what is what than the Rambam Mesivta students and staff seem to do - really discredits the whole protest and the School organizing it. When American educators go out on the streets purporting to “educate” and raising awareness of the American public about something (that is the point of demonstrating in the first place, surely), they need to be able to demonstrate they know what they are talking about. Rabbi Friedman is depicted as utterly failing to do this when the passer-by challenged him on film.

I really have some doubts about his knowledge and intent when I read the final riposte of the American educator’s reply: Did the student know that it took Germany less time to conquer all of Poland than it took to vanquish the Warsaw ghetto???
First of all (one question mark is sufficient), this looks like taunting. Secondly Polish defeat meant the bloody death of thousands of young men, not much older than the students taking part in that demonstration, and that is not really a suitable topic for silly “Jews are the best” point-scoring. What is your point? Did the student Yoni know? I expect he does if that is what he’s been told by his teachers. But actually what do his teachers know? I think that is the key question here.

First of all, Nazi Germany did not “conquer all of Poland” as anyone whom knew even a little of the history of the Second World War in Europe would know, from the 17th September to the signing of the partition treaty with Germany on the 6th October (46 days after the Nazis invaded Poland from the west) half the country was under the control of the Soviet Union (as was the Ukraine you attacked in another disgusting rally of your school). Secondly I cannot see how you make those 46 days in any way “less” that the street fighting of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which lasted less than a month (19th April – 16th May).  These are the facts anyone, even in America, can check easily before spouting xenophobic nonsense.

As I said, I rather think the killing and destruction are things to be regretted not glorified and boasted about, whether you are Jewish, Polish, German, Russian, a believer or an atheist. But I do think we owe the dead a duty to attempt to see the truth and to see their actions in the context that was their frame. It seems to me that the Rambam Mesivta School is using its version of pseudo-history merely as a tool for point-scoring and creating divisiveness and I am really at a loss to understand why. 

But I think a clue is offered by the opening of the letter which announces that “the overwhelming number of emails I've received (90% or more), either began with F.... Jew or some form of Holocaust denial”. Does that surprise you? You have never met the reaction of hate speech from others to whom you first addressed hate speech? I bet you have. Moreover, I suspect that if you were being honest with yourself you’d admit that this is exactly what you were up to. It seems to me that what we see in this video is your attempt to foster group identity among the young people under your care by presenting the group you represent as persecuted by a hateful “Other”. The Nazis used measures like “Der Giftpfilz”, you use the a modern version, the “Treacherous Pole” motif. An easy way to show how hateful that “Other” can be is to provoke such behaviour by your own.  I would not be surprised to learn that what you said to the students after the event was something like “see? All we did was talk and they showed how much they hate us”. Or maybe “the truth which they deny hurts, that’s why they react like that”. I think you are doing what other minority groups are doing all the time, playing the victim. The students were presumably told before the event something like that all Poles seventy years ago were “evil anti-Semites who betrayed their neighbours and killed your grandparents whenever they could”, and primed with the slogans they were to chant. Then I assume they were encouraged to think “from the messages we have been receiving for expressing our beliefs that nothing has changed”.

It seems to me, and I am sure you will deny it, that what you were doing in that street shouting misleading texts through a megaphone is in no way a proper commemoration of the Holocaust and its victims (nor does it acknowledge the real causes), but it is instead a crude attempt at political exploitation of it. Though I do not share their views, I feel this is exactly the sort of thing the critics of the “Holocaust industry” are talking about. What is the heritage of such behaviour? I think you need to consider that very closely. It seems to me that the lesson of ways to tolerance that should be carried by all discussions of recent genocide (Armenians through to Yazidis) is being drowned out here by attempts to monopolise the stage by attention-seeking behaviour by certain groups who seek to perpetuate the division. How different the effects would have been had you and a small group of students had made an appointment to visit the cultural attaché in the Polish consulate without your megaphone and discussing your grievances and requesting for example, the possibility of organizing a meeting of historians to discuss the issue in more detail.

My invitation to Yoni still stands.

Yours sincerely

Paul Barford

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