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November 23, 1997 No. 47 (474)

Voice - News


100 YEARS OF ZIONISM

Poles and Jews Reflect

Jews and Poles shared the same land for seven centuries, and have much in common.A Nov. 13 seminar discussing 100 years of Zionism presented an opportunity to recollect the Polish past of prominent Israeli officials and to reconsider the common experience of the two nations that shared Poland for over seven centuries. The event, held in Warsaw, showed the progress that has been achieved in Jewish-Polish relations and the many similarities they share.

"It is impossible to understand another nation without understanding its history," said Warsaw University Rector Wlodzimierz Siwiñski at the event's opening. He added that he was happy to welcome university students to the seminar, because they are the ones who need to know about Jewish culture and traditions.

Zionism, the Jewish national movement to create and now support a Jewish state in Palestine, is similar to Polish patriotic movements during the 123 years of Poland's partition. Many Zionist founders came from Poland, as Warsaw Mayor Marcin Swiêcicki noted in his letter to seminar participants.

Shewach Weiss, deputy speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, spoke of his childhood in Poland. "Polish-Jewish history, to a large extent, is the history of Polish-Jewish solidarity," he said.

Prof. Andrzej Chojnowski said, however, that common threads in their history sometimes contribute to false perspectives, as the past can be simplified to mere anecdotes. Moreover, many Jews left Poland in five Alijas, or waves of immigration, which shows that they found assimilation with Poles difficult, he added.

Polish-Israeli bilateral relations were re-established in 1990 after a break resulting from the anti-Semitic campaign of 1968. Since then, relations have been steadily improving, former Foreign Affairs Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski stressed. The Council for Polish-Jewish Relations was established by former President Lech Walêsa. Poland has had a government commissioner working with the Diaspora since 1995, and there are academic centers in Warsaw and Cracow that deal with these issues, he said.

"The reconstruction of relations is just beginning. Now it is crucial to create material conditions for developing economic and cultural relations," Chojnowski said.

Zionism has never been directed against any nation, Weiss stressed. "It has always been democratic, liberal, social-democratic, and maybe national-but never nationalistic," he stated. He also admitted that Israel, like Poland, faced isolated but painful instances of nationalism, for example the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. "As a Jew, I feel ashamed. We have always been the victims of nationalism," Weiss said.

Although Zionism's primary goal of obtaining an independent state has been achieved, the movement is not disappearing from the political scene. "We hope that in 15 to 20 years most Jews will live in Israel," said Israeli Ambassador to Poland Yigal Antebi.

Tomasz Oljasz
 

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