By Stephen Pollard
October 1, 2009
David Miliband is not just some rent-a-quote Labour MP; he is the Foreign Secretary. So his speech today at the Labour conference, in which he denounced Michal Kaminski's "anti-semitic, neo-Nazi past" was a disgrace.
William Hague is right to issue the following statement:
David Miliband’s smears are disgraceful
and represent a failure of his duty to promote Britain’s interests as
Foreign Secretary. He has failed to check his facts.
accusation of anti-Semitism against Michal Kaminski is shameful and is
based on remarks which the Chief Rabbi of Poland has said were
misrepresented. This kind of shoddy politics should be beneath a
Foreign Secretary.It is also indecent to allege that Eric
Pickles, who has an admirable record campaigning against anti-Semitism
and other forms of racism, was defending the Waffen SS. Mr Miliband
should withdraw that suggestion.
Mr Kaminski is a mainstream centre-right politician who would, were he British, fit naturally into the Atlanticist, free-market wing of the Conservative Party. As the first MEP from Eastern Europe to lead a group in the European Parliament, he is, in many ways, a beacon of the New Europe; a man who was brought up under communism but who hero-worships Baroness Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and is a living representation of the freedom which the collapse of communism has brought.
As Editor of the Jewish Chronicle, and founding chairman of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism, I am more alive than most to the dangers of the newly resurgent antisemitism. But there is simply no evidence that Mr Kaminski is an antisemite, only a series of politically motivated assertions. It is not Kaminski who is odious; it is those using antisemitism as a tool for their own political ends who deserve contempt.
The main accusation is that Mr Kaminski “tried to cover up one of the worst anti-Jewish atrocities in wartime Europe”, as Edward Macmillan-Scott MEP put it, referring to the 1941 Jedwabne massacre in which a group of Poles murdered their Jewish countrymen. He continued: “In 2001, the then president of Poland organised a national apology, but Kaminski opposed it.”
Mr Macmillan-Scott’s intention is clear: to accuse Mr Kaminski of sympathising with the murderers. But his version of events a grotesque distortion of what happened. Mr Kaminsk’s argument was that apologising for the collective guilt of Poles let the individual murderers off the hook. Far from trying to cover up the massacre, Mr Kaminski was using the president’s apology to make a wider point.
The massacre was not committed by “the Poles” against “the Jews”, but was a vile crime committed by specific individuals. The victims were not “Jews”, as if they were the stateless people declared by the Nazis, but fellow Poles. And, he added (given that the then President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, was a former communist), if the communists were into apologies, they should apologise for something for which they were individually responsible, such as their antisemitic campaign of 1968.
A further accusation is that, in an interview, he said that he would apologise only if someone "from the Jewish side" apologises for what "the Jews" did during the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland from 1939 to 1941. Mr Kaminski flatly denies this, and no one has yet produced a shred of serious evidence to contradict him.
The other specific claim is that Mr Kaminski was a member of the National Rebirth of Poland, as it is now known. Certainly, that organisation is now indeed antisemitic and neofascist. But there are two important points to consider. First, the group today is very different from 1987, when Kaminski joined as a fifteen year old. Poland was under communist rule, and the Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski was a magnet to many anticommunists as one of the few Polish nationalist groups. Experts on Poland say that the group was not antisemitic back when Mr Kaminski was a member
But even if it had been, are politicians to be judged on their behaviour as fifteen year olds? Is John Bercow still to be held accountable for the views today of the Monday Club?
None of the supposed evidence sticks. It is mudslinging of the most disgusting kind, using a serious and worrying contemporary issue – antisemitism – to further political ends.
I have no axe to grind on Mr Kaminski's behalf. But I do have an axe to grind against false labels of antisemitism. Far from being an antisemite, Mr Kaminski is about as pro-Israel an MEP as exists.
David Miliband owes him a grovelling apology.