Kafe Knesset: Israel + Poland fight over Holocaust | Gantz making moves | Livni quits politics | Israel freezing Palestinian funds
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Israel and Poland Crisis Over Holocaust: Poland canceled its participation in a gathering of the Visegrad Group (Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland) set for tomorrow in Jerusalem amid an escalating diplomatic crisis with Israel over Polish culpability for Holocaust-era crimes. The spat began late last week when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Warsaw for a Middle East security conference, was misquoted as saying that “the Poles” had cooperated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. The PM later clarified to say simply that “Poles” — and not the entire Polish people or nation — were responsible.
The incident reopened a public debate in Israel regarding the extensive role played by local Poles in eradicating most of their Jewish neighbors during World War Two. Pouring fuel on the fire, newly appointed Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz (Likud), the son of Holocaust survivors, said in a tv interview last night that “Poles collaborated with the Nazis, definitely. As [former prime minister] Yitzhak Shamir said, they suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.”
The Polish ambassador in Tel Aviv, who may now be recalled due to the crisis, blasted the comment as “racist and disgraceful.” Striking a more conciliatory tone, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking today at a Jerusalem conference, said: “Poland today is and will be a friend of Israel” — hewing closely to Netanyahu’s strategy of improving ties with nationalist governments in Eastern Europe as a bulwark against policy differences with Western Europe (on the Palestinian and Iranian issues in particular). “But,” Bennett went on to add, “we cannot allow anyone to revise history. It’s not a good way to build a relationship.” The summit will still go ahead without Poland.
Gantz Making Moves — But Are They the Right Ones?: Benny Gantz, still running second in the polls to Netanyahu’s Likud, was rumored to be in advanced negotiations to add Orly-Levy Abuksis to his Hosen Le’Israel party. Levy-Abuksis (the daughter of former foreign minister David Levy) recently founded a small centrist party called Gesher, primarily focused on social-economic issues. While a small electoral boon for Gantz, the move would almost certainly preclude a union with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
Gantz yesterday addressed the Munich Security Conference where he held forth (in English) with rather anodyne views regarding Iranian expansionism, terrorism, regional peace, and other central issues. Gantz made news primarily for his embrace of Netanyahu’s existing policies, saying at one point that “there was no daylight” between him and the PM on security and that he stood “shoulder-to-shoulder” with Netanyahu against Iran.
Tzipi Livni Quitting Politics: Former foreign minister Tzipi Livni announced her retirement from politics today amid abysmal poll numbers for her Hatnuah party and lack of interest from other parties in bringing her onboard. Hatnuah had been polling well below the electoral threshold since Livni was unceremoniously fired on live television by Labor party head Avi Gabai back in December. Hatnuah had run together with Labor in the 2015 election, with the joint party coming in a strong second to the Likud with 24 Knesset seats.
“It’s a sad day. She was one of the only party leaders who stood up and said the necessary things on the Israeli-Palestinian issue,” one former left-wing party head told Kafe Knesset. A remarkable ending indeed for a politician who ten years ago actually beat Netanyahu heads-up in a general election (yet wasn’t subsequently able to form a governing coalition).
Israel to Freeze Palestinian Funds: The Israeli security cabinet decided yesterday to freeze $138 million in tax revenues and customs duties it transfers to the Palestinian Authority, as part of a new anti-terror law that came into effect earlier this month. The amount is what the defense establishment assessed the PA paid in 2018 to Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israeli jails or the families of dead terrorists. The PA, predictably, rejected the move and said that “serious repercussions” would be discussed in the coming days.