I’m not going to Poland, and I’ve never planned to. I don’t buy anything from Poland, and I scarcely know anyone from there. What’s the Polish national drink, sports tradition, or music form that drives the world wild? I’m sorry to tell you, but the last time a Polka music programme aired on American TV was 1983.
And what about the Polish people? The Polish Americans that I know are largely indistinguishable from most of their neighbors, and typically seem to live lifestyles that are, dare I say it, normal. Polish jokes are funny, but if you told them about any other ethnic group they would probably be very insulting. I know, because I remember finding a joke book that was half Polish jokes and if you flipped it over and started from the other end it was all Italian jokes and they met in the middle. Obviously this “controversy” over the Polish Holocaust law is not aimed at Polish Americans, but at a government that denies a number of violent massacres committed during the WWII era by the Poles against Jews.
So I know a lot of you are scared about what’s happening in Poland, but I’m not. A lot of the hysteria over this new bill that prohibits the expression of the belief that Poland may have had a hand in some of the atrocities in WWII. Unfortunately, the same people panicking over this are engaging in a pointless exercise of righteous indignation.
True as an American at least, I oppose this censoring of free speech, but we’re talking about a foreign country that with all due respect I have no plans of ever going to. So for the record I do oppose the bill as well. But it’s hard to take this issue seriously when on February 1 the Aiding and Abetting Defamation League (A&ADL) released a comically ironic statement calling on Polish President Adrzej Duda to reject this new law on the grounds that it does not address the concerns of Holocaust survivors.
The fact of the matter is that the best thing that Jonathan Greenblatt and the A&ADL can do to reduce the incidence of things like this is the total opposite of what he’s been since assuming the top position at the A&ADL in 2015. In July of 2017 I highlighted Greenblatt’s Orwellian participation in the #CNNblackmail intimidation campaign against a single Reddit user who shared a GIF lampooning the network’s feud with Donald Trump. Thanks to the clumsy attempts of CNN and the A&ADL to make an example out of a single racist poster (who may have been a juvenile), instead of blunting a wave of anti-Jewish rhetoric they may have had a hand in provoking a much more powerful backlash against themselves.
The reality is that the A&ADL represents just one more jewel in the crown of alphabet soup organizations: The NAACP, GLAAD, SPLC, CAIR. These groups have all accomplished their goals of formally achieving legal and judicial rights for the respective groups that they represent, albeit within a system of justice that remains flawed and has failed to deliver justice to the citizens. Nowadays these organizations are more focused on charging at the windmills of imaginary problems or problems that are real but have only symbolic significance while wielding budgets that previous generations of the same groups could only dream to have. The rational response to this bill would be for anyone that objects to cancel any plans to travel to Poland.
Instead of going the rational route, Greenblatt and the A&ADL choose to fulfill the irritating stereotype of the old folktale Jewish peasant running to the local landowner (in this case Pres. Duda) and plead for some sort of leniency. “Please O Paritz (a word for landlord), spare me this indignity. I’ve done nothing to deserve this. . . I’ll do anything, I’ll be your Huckleberry if only you don’t do this. . .” Okay, so I improvised a bit due to my own American acculturation but you should get the point.
The Jewish world has real problems to deal with, including a massive spiritual education vacuum that the A&ADL almost never addresses. There are numerous Jews throughout the world that do not have a supporting family or community to sustain them in wanting to learn their heritage and practice. Many of these are not the type that are “spiritual but not religious” as we find in the West but genuinely were deprived due to economic or social conditions that left them adrift. There are plenty of organizations that help support those needs worldwide. Let’s also not forget that there is a very real gulf between the majority of socially liberal Jews in the USA and an increasingly vocal minority that objects to them claiming to speak for us.
Instead of addressing those issues, Greenblatt and the A&ADL pretend they are defending the lives and integrity of the Jewish people as a whole. But if that is indeed what they do, it’s being done pretty poorly. Their tactics mostly consist of finger wagging and pearl clutching at people that have hateful or merely distasteful opinions. If they really wanted to solve that issue they would seek to engage civilly and perhaps change minds. But they don’t do that, because they would rather wax judgmental over who may say what at which time and to whom.
Now a sovereign state, Poland, is emulating that tactic by using it against some historians that are stating ideas that they find irritating. The A&ADL will continue to maintain the pretense that it is concerned for the rights of the victims of the Holocaust, and civil liberties, and for the truly important March of the Living that occurs in Poland every year. I have no problem with people that visit Poland for those purposes saying that it jeopardizes their activities and is a step backward. But in the broader picture very few people truly care about the abridging of freedom of speech with regards to the Holocaust in Poland, whereas Greenblatt is very determined to make it seem like he does.