Israel straddles anger and diplomacy in tricky Pole dance
Hebrew media review

Israel straddles anger and diplomacy in tricky Pole dance

Ire at Warsaw for going ahead with the Holocaust bill is cramped by Israel’s desire to keep tensions from getting out of hand

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and his wife Sara, second left, host Polish President Andrzej Duda, second right, and his wife Agata, at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on January 18, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and his wife Sara, second left, host Polish President Andrzej Duda, second right, and his wife Agata, at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem on January 18, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Poland’s decision to push ahead with a law criminalizing blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes during the Holocaust sets off a fresh round of ire in Israeli dailies Friday morning, though the anger and indignation is notably more subdued than in the first heady days of the law’s initial passage earlier this week.

Unlike earlier, when the very essence of the law was the source of Israeli and Jewish unhappiness, now the focus is on the fact that Warsaw seemingly went behind Jerusalem’s back to get it passed, despite agreeing to talk it over first.

Papers report that Israel is especially incensed because it had largely given the Poles a pass in trying to keep the crisis from getting out of hand, since it views them as an important ally in a largely hostile European Union.

“Anger in Israel: The Poles didn’t hold to their agreement,” reads the headline in Israel Hayom, the only paper to lead off with the story.

“The diplomatic corps was embarrassed by the Polish move, since all the while Israel had maintained a line of talking quietly in order to lower the flames between the sides. That’s also the reason that during the whole time, the envoy Anna Azari has not given interviews and has not been recalled to Israel for consultations,” the paper reports.

Haaretz quotes a diplomatic source saying Israel is “deeply disappointed.”

Yet Yedioth quotes another diplomat who is “less than diplomatic,” in the paper’s words.

“We got a slap in the face,” the diplomat is quoted saying, and the paper reports that recalling the envoy is still on the table, though it notes the Foreign Ministry’s statement on canceling the visit of Polish security official Pawel Soloch was “restrained.”

All hope is not lost, though.

“Jerusalem is deploying levers of diplomatic pressure, for instance with the US, in the hopes they can still get in some changes to the law before it’s signed by Polish President Andrej Duda,” the paper reports.

Hope is often not enough, as Haaretz’s lead story shows. The cautionary tale quotes African asylum seekers who were previously deported from Israel to Rwanda with promises of a better life and more protections, only to receive a big sack of bupkus.

The paper, which spoke to six of the nine asylum seekers who have not left Rwanda for Uganda, says all “live a meager existence in Kigali, struggling to survive. Some have lost all hope. The luckier ones have a roof over their heads and money for food. Others depend on the generosity and kindness of friends and local people and the limited help from the UN.”

“The authorities in Rwanda do not recognize their right to be there and refuse to grant them residency permits. Lacking official documents, they have frequently been arrested and jailed. They are not fluent in the local language, the culture is foreign to them and finding work is nearly impossible,” the paper reports. “Though they arrived in Rwanda at different times, they all tell a similar story that raises concern for the fate of those who will be deported from Israel in the near future. All the people interviewed regret their decision to leave for Rwanda and urge the asylum seekers in Israel not to follow their example.”

In Yedioth, columnist Sima Kadmon says the fight is far from over, even if deportation orders are starting to go out, and imagines another scenario by which instead of deporting the migrants to a third country, they were allowed to do the jobs foreign workers here do now all around Israel.

“It’s safe to assume that if there were a different government, one that did not constantly look for ways to sic various populations on each other, and if the Interior Ministry were run by somebody not from Shas, everything would look different. The feeling is that this government, and especially this interior minister, don’t want non-Jewish refugees among us, especially not if their skin is a certain color,” she writes. “And another thing, since the border fence went up, no refugees or job seekers have entered. Israelis dealing with a few tens of thousands who are already here. Can the strongest democracy in the Middle East not take in some 20,000 foreigners? There’s enough room, there’s enough work. Instead of giving tens of thousands of permits to the Chinese, Thai or Filipinos, why not employ those who are already here. In agriculture, tourism, restaurants, home care. Basically, everything Israelis are not willing to do themselves. And spread them out, house them across the whole country. You can’t force south Tel Aviv to be the moral compass for the whole country.”

Alas, the country’s government is the one it has, and Israel Hayom, seen as a mouthpiece of the government, is continuing to push Rwanda as a fine place for refugees and everyone else.

“The stories of danger in Rwanda to those deported from Israel are lies. Made from whole cloth,” a Rwandan official tells a reporter from the paper dispatched to Kigali, explaining that because the country is still somewhat poorer than Israel, the migrants are simply complaining about a small degradation is quality of life. “So they are leaving here and trying their luck to get to Europe, where they can again enjoy a higher standard of living. Others are returning to Eritrea and Sudan. They are leaving on their own. They are not endangered refugees, but job seekers. Real refugees who get here are happy to stay here. Rwanda is not Africa. It’s a very different country, organized, clean, more secure, full of fair people who keep to their word.”

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