Former Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich has called on the government to cancel all youth trips to Poland, not due to the diplomatic rift between the two countries, but because she believes that the trips have outlasted their purpose – if one ever existed.
In an article that was published in Yediot Aharonot, Yachimovich writes, “These trips should stop – in fact, they should have been stopped years ago, and this has nothing to do with the deterioration of relations between Israel and Poland. Not because of the Poles – because of us. Not as some type of sanction or punishment, but simply because these trips don’t really achieve anything, they are not egalitarian – and they are actually quite pointless. They have become part of a megalomanic project whose link to the memory of the Holocaust is fading away. In fact, there are scores of reasons why we should put a stop to these trips, to the point that it’s a wonder we haven’t done so already.”
Yachimovich continues, “I’m the last person to cast doubt on the necessity of teaching the moral, historic, and national messages of the Holocaust, or to question the need to preserve the memory of this singular tragedy and to derive lessons from it. But no one is going to convince me that a fun trip abroad – even if there are a few moments of tears here and there (sometimes fake…) – is going to do the job. The real connection with the pain of this tragedy happens only in short bursts, and the rest of the trip is just the fun of being in a foreign country with friends around, having a good time. When they get home, that’s the end of it. It happened, it’s over, and that’s it.”
In her opinion, far more meaningful projects can be created for youth without leaving Israel.
“The soil of Poland is saturated with testaments to the tragedy that occurred there. But the memories – and even more, the triumph, the survival – are here, right under our noses. The historic facts of the Holocaust and the moral imperatives that it has created – chief among them, how it is vital to banish all forms of racism – should be taught in our schools in an organized fashion that is easily understood by our children,” she stated.
“While it’s true that there is value to a shared fun experience,” Yachimovich added, “who [on earth] decided that it can only take place in Poland? What’s wrong with a few days spent in Yad Vashem, Yad Mordechai, the Ghetto Fighters’ House, the Chamber of the Holocaust, or Shem Olam? These are all excellent museums and one doesn’t have to fly abroad to visit them.”
In fact, the future of the organized Israeli youth trips to Poland is in question already, due to the diplomatic row between the two countries in the wake of a law recently passed in Poland that effectively blocks almost all restitution claims for Jewish property lost during the Second World War and its aftermath.
Inflammatory comments made by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) have been denounced by leading Polish politicians, one of whom stated this week that his country would be reassessing the Israeli trips, as they “sow hatred for Poles” in the minds of the youth who visit.