After Netanyahu comment to ToI, Poland says Israel should not host Europe summit

President says if Israeli PM indeed spoke about Poles cooperating with Nazis, he will look to have prime ministers from central European Visegrad Group meet in Poland instead

Polish President Andrzej Duda ,left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, talk after a group photo at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, February 13, 2019. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)
Polish President Andrzej Duda ,left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, talk after a group photo at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, February 13, 2019. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

Polish President Adrzej Duda threatened to pull out of a high-level summit slated to take place in Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to point at Polish cooperation with the Nazi regime.

Duda’s comment came as Poles have fumed over the statement by Netanyahu, threatening to spark a fresh diplomatic tussle between the countries.

Asked by The Times of Israel about an agreement between Israel and Poland to end a bitter dispute over a law passed by Warsaw that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Holocaust crimes, Netanyahu denied suggestions of going along with historical revisionism.

“Here I am saying Poles cooperated with the Nazis. I know the history and I don’t whitewash it. I bring it up,” he said from Warsaw Thursday, where he was attending an international conference on Middle East security.

In some news reports, Netanyahu was quoted as saying “The Poles cooperated with the Nazis,” though Netanyahu’s office later clarified that he did not say “the” and played a tape recording of the comments to reporters to confirm this.

Duda wrote on Twitter that if Netanyahu indeed made the comments, he would offer to host an upcoming meeting of the so-called Visegrad group himself instead of holding the meeting in Israel.

United States Vice President Mike Pence with his wife Karen, Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki with his wife Iwona and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his wife Sara, from left, stand at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes during a wreath laying ceremony in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. (Michael Sohn/AP)

Israel is set to host the the prime ministers of the four countries in the group — Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki, the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babis, Slovakia’s Peter Pellegrini, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban — in Jerusalem on February 18-19.

“In this situation, Israel is not a good place to meet,” Duda wrote on Twitter.

Israel’s embassy in Poland told the Polish prime minister’s office Thursday night that Netanyahu “didn’t say the Polish nation carried out crimes against Jews, but only that no one has been sued under the Holocaust law for saying ‘Poles’ collaborated.”

Beata Mazurek, deputy speaker of the Polish parliament for Morawieck and Duda’s ruling Law and Justice party, said earlier that the party would introduce a measure in the Sejm to condemn the “unacceptable comments made during the Middle East conference.”

In Israel Yair Lapid, head of the opposition’s Yesh Atid party, said: “The Israeli government should notify the Polish prime minister that he can pass on the flight here and now, and find himself another destination.

“The Holocaust is non-negotiable,” Lapid said, adding that Netanyahu, in previously negotiating with Warsaw over the Polish law, had “kowtowed” to the Polish government.

File: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gives a speech to lawmakers at the parliament in Warsaw on December 12, 2017. (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Netanyahu has been courting closer ties with Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe as part of a bid to build up a bloc of support within the EU.

The Jerusalem meeting would be the first time the consortium, which was founded in 1991, ever convened outside of Europe.

Netanyahu first offered to host a meeting of the Visegrad Group, also known as V4, in July 2017 in Budapest. At the time, Netanyahu was overheard complaining to the Central European leaders about the European Union’s “crazy” policies vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Unaware that his remarks were being transmitted to reporters outside, the prime minister slammed Brussels for its treatment of Israel, calling on the V4 to use their influence in the organization to ease conditions for advancing Israel’s ties with the EU.

PM Netanyahu and the heads of state from Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland, in Budapest, July 19, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

The summit in Jerusalem will likely also focus on ways the four countries can help fight what Netanyahu considers the union’s unfair policies toward Israel.

The dispute over the Polish Holocaust law was resolved last year when Poland softened the law and Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart agreed on a joint declaration stressing the involvement of the Polish resistance in helping Jews. It was seen as a diplomatic coup for Poland but Netanyahu faced criticism from historians in Israel, including at Yad Vashem, for agreeing to a statement that they said distorted history.

“The idea that we distort history or hide it is nonsense,” Netanyahu told reporters Thursday.

He said the law came up in a meeting earlier on Thursday with Morawiecki.

Leading Israeli historians have harshly criticized the joint statement, arguing it inaccurately adopts the Polish narrative of the Holocaust, overstating Polish efforts to rescue Jews and understating anti-Jewish atrocities committed by Poles.

Last July, Netanyahu said he had taken note of the criticism and would address it at a later time, but he has not done so.

“Since then I heard that some of the historians have changed their mind,” he said, refusing to elaborate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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