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Strangely, nostalgia over the once rich Jewish culture of Poland among many Catholic Poles is creating a revitalized, pro-Israel dimension. This writer recalls a conversation with a young Polish student in Warsaw 1996, during which he said “The Jews gave Poland culture, and without the Jews Poland is much poorer.”
For Israelis, Poland represents an important market of 38 million customers. Poland is a dynamically developing country, populated by well-educated young people who are ambitious and eager to succeed. Poland’s geographic location, at the juncture of east-west and north-south trans-European communications routes, makes it a preferred station for exporting products not only to Western Europe but also to the east. Poland is also an emerging European Union power, and a key NATO member. Its economy grew faster than most EU states in 2010 with a GDP rate of 3.8%, and it sent 1200 of its troops to Afghanistan in support of NATO. Israel’s investment in Poland has past the $1.5 Billion mark.
Poland and Israel have held joint cabinet meetings, and both Poland’s current government and main opposition party are strong supporters of Israel. Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski have been outspoken defenders of Israel in international forums and Poland voted against the Goldstone Commission Report at the UN. Moreover, Poland joined the U.S. along with several other countries in boycotting the 2009 Durban Conference, and stayed out of the UN General Assembly hall during the address by Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.
When Prime Minister Tusk was in Jerusalem last February, he declared that Israel “can always count on Poland.” The Polish PAP news agency reported on September 19, 2011, that PM Tusk opined “Poland will certainly not vote for a resolution which would directly jeopardize Israel’s security.” He clarified that, “If the text of the resolution on the table will not constitute a threat to Israel and will somehow advance the Palestinian case, and it seems there is a shadow of a chance for a compromise, and then we will be ready to vote for this.”
A moral obligation by Catholic Poland to take responsibility for the past and the iniquities perpetrated on its Jews is one factor that makes for the growing closeness between Poland and Israel. It also means that the anti-Zionist and pro-Arab foreign policy of Communist Poland is an anathema to the current government. Poland, unlike the countries of western Europe, characterized by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as “Old Europe,” is more pro-American than pan-European. Their historical fears of neighboring Russia and Germany make it easy for the Poles to identify with Israel’s security concerns and existential struggle. And Poland depends on the U.S. (though not on Obama) to defend against Russian aggression.
Unlike Western Europe, Poland has no significant Muslim minority to consider, and they harbor no romantic notions about the Arabs like Britain and France, the former colonial powers. The Polish people, whose democracy they guard fiercely, have a natural affinity with Israel, as the only democracy in the Middle East. Public opinion in Poland, contrary to what is being expressed in Western Europe, is overwhelmingly pro-Israel – which has impacted on government policies.
In the past, countries like Denmark and the Netherlands were considered to be Israel’s natural friends in Europe. Today, however, it is countries in Eastern Europe, like Poland and the Czech Republic, which stand alongside Israel in support.
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