By Jake Novak
Last week, 5 Towns Jewish Times Editor-in-Chief Larry Gordon asked a simple but important question paraphrased here:
Why did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make A deal with Poland to whitewash Polish complicity and aid to the Nazis in the Holocaust?
Not only does this deal serve to blur an important truth, but Gordon noted that this deal seems to protect Poland from possibly having to pay Jewish Holocaust victims and their families billions of dollars in reparations.
In return, all Bibi got from Poland was that government’s decision to nullify a new law that made it illegal to say the words, “Polish Death Camps,” or to suggest that Poles were complicit in the Nazi slaughter of Jews during the Holocaust.
The deal is so odious that Yad Vashem, Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett have all publicly denounced it.
And it’s not so hard to see why.
The Shoah isn’t just a distant historic event in Israel. The Jewish state is haunted and also spurred on by the Holocaust every day. Its huge percentage of survivors and their descendants live with its effects on a regular basis. And, perhaps most importantly, Israel has to fight the last disciples of the Shoah’s villains thanks to the direct Nazi pedigree of Fatah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other radical Islamist terror groups.
So, what was Bibi thinking?
The answer is two words: Vladimir Putin.
Yes, for all the public respect and friendship Netanyahu shows to Putin in public, he and his Likud government clearly see him and Russia as a dangerous enemy.
Netanyahu has acted on this assessment several times, but with increasing regularity this year. The most important of these moves has been Israel’s refusal to back down in Syria and demand full Iranian withdrawal from the country. Russia had been hoping to coddle its Iranian allies by helping to protect their protégé Bashar Assad and give Hezbollah and its Iranian commanders free passage in Syria. Good luck with that now.
But there have been more subtle moves too. Israel wasted little time putting American-made/Israeli modified stealth F-35 Adir jet fighters into service in order to prove their invulnerability to Russian-made S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. The Russians had been marketing the S-300 as a major commodity to Middle Eastern buyers, and now it’s been embarrassed by the fact that those missiles can’t shoot what radars can’t see.
So where does Poland come in? First off, the Israelis have excellent missile systems of their own to sell the world and Poland needs them to defend itself against … you guessed it, Russia. When Putin bullied his way into Crimea in 2014, it put the whole of Eastern Europe into emergency defense mode. Not surprisingly, just about every one of those countries found themselves coming up short on defense.
Poland has been proactive about fixing that shortcoming, pushing the United States for aid to buy both American and Israeli missile defense systems. Just this spring, Poland signed a deal with the United States to buy $7.6 billion worth of Patriot Missile batteries with Israel’s SkyCeptor defense system from the David’s Sling program integrated into those systems. Israel’s share of that deal is worth $1 billion and David’s Sling developer Rafael Advanced Defense Systems was quick to say the deal was still good even before Poland wiped away the worst parts of its Holocaust speech laws.
But Netanyahu doesn’t just want this and future Israeli-Polish defense deals to thrive, there’s also an energy component to this that could become a finger in Putin’s eye.
As President Donald Trump just clarified to the mostly clueless political punditry, Russia enjoys massive influence throughout Europe thanks to the crucial supply of fuel and heating oil it provides to the entire region. Breaking that energy stranglehold is just as important in the push to reduce Putin’s power as a defense buildup by his Eastern European neighbors.
Israel’s nascent natural gas industry may never grab a significant market share in the region, but it would surely like to try. And Bibi doesn’t want chances for that kind of deal scuttled by Holocaust rhetoric.
Of course, that leaves us contemplating the wisdom of this tradeoff. We have a right to worry that blurring the truth about the Holocaust could easily lead to more violence against Jews and other innocent people soon enough. But we must also remember that Israel has a long history of choosing to live in the here and now as a way to ultimately defeat the goals of the Final Solution.
It will take years to prove whether Netanyahu is making the right decision. But we already know that healthy concerns over Putin and Russia are why he’s making it. It’s at least a plausible explanation that can’t just be dismissed.
Jake Novak has been a TV news producer and editorial columnist for more than 25 years, with expertise in political, economic, religious, and cultural issues. He has produced shows at CNBC, CNN, FOX, and several local stations across the country. Novak is a graduate of the Yeshivah of Flatbush, has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University, and a master’s degree from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny and watch out for future columns on 5TJT.com.