Taking the Pole position: 7 things to know for June 28
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Taking the Pole position: 7 things to know for June 28

The rift between Israel and Poland is over, but it seems Israel had to accept the Polish narrative to bury the Holocaust law; plus war on the horizon and a lesson about fake news

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2018, to discuss Poland's amended Holocaust Law. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on June 27, 2018, to discuss Poland's amended Holocaust Law. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

1. Is the Polish Holocaust bill dead? Israel Hayom certainly seems to think so, with a front page crowing that the law is no more.

  • In fact, what ended is the diplomatic crisis over the law, after Poland backtracked by amending it to remove criminal penalties for blaming the Polish people for Holocaust crimes (but otherwise leaving the law in place).
  • Though Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed it as a victory, Yedioth Ahronoth reports that it wasn’t Israeli pressure and complaints that led Poland to change course, but rather US pressure, citing a source close to Polish President Andrej Duda.
  • And what is even a victory at all? Netanyahu’s remarks Wednesday night on the law and the end of the rift were striking in that the Hebrew section, which spoke of Israel standing up for the truth, did not match the English statement, which sounded like it had been drafted in Warsaw and accepted the Polish narrative that they were essentially only victims during the Shoah.
  • Haaretz’s Ofer Aderet calls the statement “a real victory” — but for Poland: “Not a word about burning Jews alive after locking them up in a barn; no mention of ‘hunting down Jews’ in the fields and selling them to the Germans for a beer bottle. Moreover, this is followed by a reservation, saying that the ‘cruelty’ wasn’t linked to the criminals’ Polish origin – or even to their religion or “world view’ – but was simply conduct practiced by ‘certain people’ – so the statement said – in various places. In other words, ‘there are bad people everywhere.’”
  • In Yedioth as well, columnist Sever Plotzker praises the Poles for backtracking, but expresses deep disappointment in Netanyahu’s statement: “This is a scandalous, distorted and outrageous statement; There are so many flaws that it would take a long article on history to correct them all. For the first time, we heard, for example, the condemnation by the Israeli Prime Minister of ‘anti-Polonism,’ a term invented by Polish nationalists as a counterweight to anti-Semitism.”

2. Could the Israeli press’s excitement over Germany being knocked out of the World Cup in the first round ( for the first time since 1938) also be connected to some deeper historical grudge? That is not clear, though references to that dark period certainly popped up in snarky quips, from “don’t mention the VAR,” to “Germany can’t even make it to Moscow in the summer,” to my own coining of the “night of the long faces.”

  • Germany’s booting gets major play on the front page of all Israel’s major papers.
  • “A mournful silence descended over all Germany last night,” Israel Hayom’s man in Berlin reports.
  • “It’s not that rare for a winner of the last World Cup to be sent home in the first round, but nobody expected it would happen to Germany,” writes Yedioth, under the headline “The Germans are sunk.”
  • That headline, by the way, recalls one of my favorite headlines of all time — “British subs sink Germans” — from another historic German collapse in the 1998-99 Champions League final, after Manchester United substitutes scored two stoppage-time goals to come back and beat Munich 2-1.

3. Lest one think the news is all Germans losing and Poles winning (when does that ever happen?) reports also indicate still-rising tensions on the Gaza border.

  • Reports note the Hamas has seemingly “changed the rules of the game,” in Yedioth’s words, by indicating it will respond ti airstrikes, even those aimed at empty cars, with rockets, as it did early Wednesday.
  • “The deterrence is gone,” writes the paper’s Yossi Yehoshua, noting that Hamas is not hiding the fact that it’s involved in the rocket fire.
  • “We’re getting closer to a war nobody wants,” Israel Hayom’s Yoav Limor writes, though a Sderot resident is quoted saying that “we are already in a war and it needs to stop.”
  • How to do that is proving a conundrum, especially given efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in the Strip instead of blasting it to smithereens.
  • Israeli decision-makers also have to keep domestic considerations in mind, Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes.
  • “Humanitarian relief for Gaza without a prisoner exchange deal would be bitterly opposed by the families of the missing and deceased Israelis. In the meantime, [Netanyahu’s] own ministers and other would-be ‘advisers’ in the media and on social media have slammed him for being weak on terrorism. The longer the Israeli leadership remains in the quagmire, the more it sinks,” he writes.

5. A series of incidents on the Gaza border in which Palestinians attempting to cross the border were shot and one was rushed to an Israeli hospital became a case study in how fake news gets spread and cannot simple be bottled back up once the error is realized.

  • Doctors noticed lumps in the wounded teen’s clothes, were worried they were bombs, and called in a squad that determined they were not.
  • Nonetheless, several headlines are still making the rounds of a Gazan terrorist bringing explosives into the hospital (with only a note at the bottom noting there were no explosives), such as this one from the Jewish Press.
  • Even the LA Times’ Israel reporter accidentally tweeted out the bad info, and only a day later clarified that they were just empty tear gas canisters, though the damage had been done.

6. Israelis and hasbarists, meanwhile, got themselves worked into a tizzy over another tweet Wednesday, after the Reuters news agency included a picture of Prince William and Netta Barzilai in Tel Aviv under a headline about the duke meeting PA President Mahmoud Abbas in “the occupied West Bank.”

  • Many made a joke out of the tweet, since deleted, but some took it as a sinister attempt to distort the truth, even though headlines do not always match pictures.

7. The prince spent Thursday morning touring holy sites in the Old City, including the Western Wall, where he spent a long minute in silence in the men’s section and left a note.

  • Good thing he didn’t bring the duchess. Haaretz reports that Culture Minister Miri Regev she says she can’t allow men and women to pray together anywhere near the site, resigning from a council meant to approve the creation of a mixed prayer space rather than approve it.
  • Regev’s crisis of conscience could be trouble for Netanyahu, the paper explains: “Netanyahu is worried that if the committee does not approve the construction soon, the High Court will rule against the government and forbid the work. That could lead to a High Court ruling that would allow mixed-gender prayer in the Kotel Plaza itself – which would lead to a political crisis.”
  • In an initial reaction to the report, Jewish Agency head Natan Sharanksy chides Regev for her refusal to okay the pluralistic plaza.
  • “Minister Regev’s conscience is her own matter, but her public about-face regarding the need to set established prayer practices at the site is most regrettable,” he says in a statement. “I hope the Prime Minister brings about the completion of the expanded prayer area known as Ezrat Yisrael, as he has repeatedly promised the Jewish people in Israel and abroad that he would.”
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