A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to travel to Poland with a group of 25 friends to visit the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. After four days of moving from horror to horror, I was given the opportunity to address a former member of the Polish parliament (who is a current member of the opposition), in a private meeting with our group, about efforts to combat the BDS movement. Below are my remarks:
My name is Gabriel Groisman. I am a proud Jewish-American. I was born in Washington DC but my family comes from Poland and Russia. My direct family was lucky enough to have moved to South America before the war. I am now an elected official, as I serve as a Councilman for Bal Harbour, Florida and am active on a variety of issues affecting the Jewish community.
When I was asked to speak today about my efforts to combat the BDS movement, I accepted with great honor but also with a great sense of duty to my people, that I can only hope to fulfill.
Standing in Poland where almost 6 million Jews were killed by the Nazis, including over 3 million polish Jews, only adds gravity to the topic on which I am going to speak.
There are many lessons from the Holocaust. One of the most important for all of humanity, Jews and non-Jews alike, Americans and Europeans alike, is that we cannot stand idly by as hate and bigotry begin to build. We must quash it at its infancy.
One of the first things that Hitler did when he came to power in Germany, on April 1, 1933, was to boycott Jewish businesses. This spread at different levels to countries around the world including within the US, Canada, Hungary, and even to the National Democracy Party (Endecja) here in Poland.
Hitler’s purpose was to begin to delegitimize and to undermine the Jewish people.
Shortly thereafter the Nazi’s revoked the Jews’ civil service positions (including judges, school teachers, and professors), restricting them to Aryans. Then, the Nuremberg laws were passed 2 years later. And, we all know what came next.
Both Jews and non-Jews alike could have, and should have, done more to counter the rise of anti-Semitism well before the environment was such that allowed the Nazi party to rise to power in Germany. None of us know if it would have ultimately stopped the atrocities of the Holocaust, but we can all agree that we didn’t do enough.
Today, the Jewish people have a State. A country. A place of our own. An army to protect us. And, its not just any land, it is the land where Abraham took his son Isaac to the Alter in the late 1600’s BCE, where the Jewish people arrived again after Exodus from slavery in Egypt in 1272 BCE, where King David ruled starting in 877 BCE, where King Solomon began to rule in 836 BCE, and so on.
Now, once again there is a group of people, which the world once again underestimates, who once again have stated that their goal to wipe the Jews into the sea. They have certainly tried. They tried militarily in 1948, 1967, 1972, 1981, and continuously thereafter. Thankfully, they have failed each and every time. They have not given up however. Now, they have decided to take a page out of the Nazi playbook and attempt to undermine and delegitimize the Jewish people and the Jewish State. The tip of the de-legitimization campaign is “BDS Movement,” which calls for the boycott, divestment and sanction of Israelis, their businesses, academics, banks and more.
With the Nazi’s, if you wanted to understand what they were trying to do, you only had to listen to Hilter’s speeches, or read Mein Kampf. Here, nothing has changed. If you want to know the goal of the BDS movement, all you have to do is listen to its founders and leaders.
“The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel….That should be stated as an unambiguous goal. There should not be any equivocation on the subject.” As’ad AbuKhalil
Unfortunately, this movement has begun to gain momentum around the world. The Jews in the United States and Europe are just now beginning to take the issue very seriously. We are combatting it through education and also through legislation on the federal, state and municipal levels.
In my city I drafted and passed the first municipal anti-BDS legislation, requiring any individual or entity doing business with our city to affirm as a condition to the agreement, that they have not and will not boycott or divest from any authorized trading partner of the United States, including Israel. Fortunately, many cities around the United States have followed suit. Similarly, five states have passed very strong anti-BDS laws, with many to follow in the next year. On the federal level, Congress is working to combat BDS through language in trade bills, and discussions have begun about revisiting funding to universities who boycott Israel.
We now need countries like Poland to take the lead in Eastern Europe to combat the BDS movement. In 2013 trade between Poland and Israel was around $800 million dollars. Poland needs to take a lead on this issue. Note that the recent labeling guidelines by the EU are also part of the BDS movement. This must be fought as well. BDS is counter-productive to the situation in the Middle East, it harms both Palestinians and Israel, and improperly singles out the Jewish state.
Last year an Israel Allies Caucus met here in Poland with various member is the Parliament. The purpose of the cause is to foster Polish-Israeli relations. This is obviously an important step forward.
We are a people who fiercely remember our past. At the same time, we are a people who are deeply rooted in our conviction to move forward, and to continue to contribute to the world in a positive manner, in all aspects of life.
I respectfully ask that you, as a member of the opposition, and the entire Polish government continue to take steps to foster stronger ties with the Israel, and to help the Jewish people as a whole fight the anti-Semitism of the day, which is the movement to delegitimize Israel, now spearheaded by the BDS movement. Condemn the movement. Pass your own anti-BDS laws. The days of boycotting Jews should be over. This is what we mean when we say NEVER AGAIN.
This message, if carried by the Polish government, will certainly reverberate around the world.