After Israel recalls envoy over restitution law, Poland plans reciprocal move

Polish foreign ministry cites ‘principle of symmetry’ in bilateral relations as ties fray following passage of legislation limiting post-Holocaust claims

View of the entrance to the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv, February 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
View of the entrance to the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv, February 18, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Poland’s foreign ministry on Sunday indicated it will recall its ambassador to Israel in a tit-for-tat move after Israel returned its own envoy from Warsaw amid a diplomatic spat over Polish legislation that severely restricts World War II-era restitution claims.

Israel had already told Poland that its envoy, Marek Magierowski, who is in his home country on vacation, should not come back to the Jewish state.

The Polish ministry said in a statement that it takes “a negative view of actions taken by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel and the unfounded decision to lower the rank of its diplomatic representation in Warsaw.

“Steps taken by Israel very severely harm our relations,” it warned. “The Polish government will take appropriate political and diplomatic measures, taking into account the principle of symmetry applicable in bilateral relations.

The development came after Israel’s foreign ministry said Saturday that the new Israeli ambassador to Poland, who was expected to travel to Warsaw in the near future, will remain in Israel for the time being, and advised Poland’s ambassador to also remain at home.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that “Poland, not for the first time, passed an antisemitic and immoral law,” in a Hebrew-language statement.

Lapid’s statement came after Poland’s President Andrej Duda approved the law, defying strong opposition from Israel and the United States.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the approval of the legislation is “a shameful decision and disgraceful contempt for the memory of the Holocaust,” while Defense Minister Benny Gantz said he was “deeply disturbed” by the law’s passage and urged international condemnation.

Lapid said that Israel was in touch with the US on how to respond.

The law sets a 30-year time limit on challenges to property confiscations, which would mean that pending proceedings involving Communist-era property confiscations would be discontinued and dismissed. It affects Polish, Jewish and other property claims that are subject to contested previous determinations.

Some three million Polish Jews, 90 percent of the country’s Jewish community, were killed during World War II in Poland.

After the war, Communist authorities nationalized vast numbers of properties that had been left empty because their owners had been killed or fled.

While the law covers both Jewish and non-Jewish claimants, campaigners say Jewish owners will be disproportionately affected because they were often late in lodging claims after the war.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization condemned the law’s approval as well, saying it marked “a sad day for justice and the rule of law.”

“Today is a sad day for justice and the rule of law, as President Duda signs a law trying to make it virtually impossible for all former Polish property owners to secure redress for property illegally stolen during the Communist era — and which remains in Poland to this day,” the group said in a statement Saturday.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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