Thursday 29 October 2009

Up to a point, Chief Rabbi

The Jewish Chronicle reports the Polish Chief Rabbi's latest statement on Michal Kaminski's controversial political history

An email sent to the think-tank Policy Exchange, Rabbi Schudrich said: "There is no doubt that Kaminski is a strong friend of the State of Israel. He himself has spoken out against anti-Semitism on several occasions during the past decade.

"It is a grotesque distortion that people are quoting me to prove that Kaminski is an anti-Semite. Portraying Kaminski as a neo Nazi plays into the painful and false stereotype that all Poles are anti-Semitic."

"I would also like to clarify that the headline of James Macintyre article of July 29, 2009 entitled: "Jewish Leaders Turn on Cameron's Tories: Poland's chief rabbi and others call on Cameron to sever ties with Polish MEP" does not represent what I said to the author.

"I made no political statement and this headline is misleading and untrue."

So how did such a report arise?

The New Statesman had already published the email from the Rabbi: he does not withdraw the content of this.

Dear James,

I do not comment on political decisions. However, it is clear that Mr Kaminski was a member of NOP, a group that is openly far right and neo-nazi. Anyone who would want to align himself with a person who was an active member of NOP and the Committee to Defend the Good Name of Jedwabne (which was established to deny historical facts of the massacre at Jedwabne) needs to understand with what and by whom he is being represented.

Michael Schudrich

No political statement?

Up to a point, Chief Rabbi.

While he is challenging a headline, both that headline and the report seem to me a very fair report of his statement - and indeed, the only possible plausible interpretation of his own words.

Curiously, this latest statement from the office of the Polish Chief Rabbi comes in an email correspondence with the Policy Exchange think-tank. (The centre-right group has charitable status, which means that it must steer clear of political activity or partisan involvement, though it has strong links with and influence on the Cameron Conservatives, and its director Neil O'Brien built a reputation as an effective Eurosceptic campaigner before joining the think-tank).

So where are we now?

Tory blogger Iain Dale is certain this is a decisive intervention, having himself long ago exonerated Kaminski as having no questions to answer.

Toby Helm of The Observer reports there has been intense political pressure in Poland on the Rabbi.

If the initial email intended to stay out of a political argument, it hardly succeeded. Nor could that be plausibly thought to be its intent. The Chief Rabbi appears to regret that, without withdrawing the content of it, but rather I doubt his latest email gets him out of the political fray either.

Where does this leave the leader of the Tories' new European group?

The evidence that Michal Kaminski made at least opportunistic use of anti-semitic sentiments remains strong, and efforts to refute this have unravelled. (I have not seen his response to reports that he was among those involved in the 1995 campaign against Kasniewski’s presidential bid who were pushing the story that Kasniewski’s grandmother was Jewish). As over the campaign against the massacre apology, at key moments in his career Kaminski does appear to have made an opportunist bid to use and play to quite widespread anti-semitic opinion.

This does not mean that he could not turn into a moderate mainstream right-wing political leader. The Chief Rabbi's statement - whatever the pressure - may weigh on the ledger for those who believe that his views have changed.

That Kaminski's own account of his history has fallen apart under scrutiny is surely beyond dispute.

Curiously, that might now be said of the Chief Rabbi too.

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