Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Thursday led a chorus of condemnation for a joint Israeli-Polish declaration signed by the two nations’ prime ministers that appears to accept Poland’s official position that it was not in any way responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust.
The outrage from across the political spectrum, and widespread demands that the joint declaration be canceled, came following a statement from the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center saying the declaration would stifle free research on the subject.
“The joint declaration of Israel and the government of Poland is a disgrace, saturated with lies, that betrays the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust,” Bennett said in statement put out on Twitter. “As minister of education, entrusted with passing on the memory of the Holocaust, I reject it completely. It has no factual basis and won’t be studied in the education system,”
The Jewish Home leader added that he would be demanding that “the prime minister cancel the declaration or bring it to the government for approval.”
The joint declaration, signed simultaneously on June 27 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki, ended a diplomatic standoff over a Polish law that made it a criminal offense to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in the extermination of Jews during World War II.
The controversial text declared that the term “Polish death camps” is “blatantly erroneous” and that the wartime Polish government-in-exile “attempted to stop this Nazi activity by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies to the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.”
Controversially too, it condemned “every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during… World War II” but noted “heroic acts of numerous Poles, especially the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to save Jewish people.”
According to Yad Vashem, the joint declaration “contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field.”
While the joint declaration — which Poland is actively promoting through full-page ads in newspaper across the globe — appears to give the same prominence to those Poles who helped Jews and those who persecuted them, Yad Vashem’s statement made plain that “decades of historical research reveal a totally different picture: Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread phenomena.”
Yad Vashem historians respond to the joint statement of the Governments of #Poland and #Israel concerning the revision of the 26 January 2018, amendment to Poland’s Act on the Institute of National Remembrance https://t.co/6moNSgd1Hw
— Yad Vashem (@yadvashem) July 5, 2018
The agreement declared that the term “Polish death camps” is “blatantly erroneous” and that the wartime Polish government-in-exile “attempted to stop this Nazi activity by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies to the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.”
The criticism is an embarrassing blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week hailed the agreement and the joint statement that was issued on the occasion as safeguarding “the historic truth about the Holocaust.”
Opposition leaders joined Bennett in calling for the agreement to be canceled.
Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said that the agreement “is a disgrace and a scandalous embarrassment to the memory of Holocaust victims.”
Citing leading Holocaust historians who give the number as a low-ball estimate, Lapid said that over 200,000 Jews were killed by Poles during the Holocaust.
Lapid, who cautioned against signing the agreement and has repeatedly called for it to be annulled, said again Thursday that “Netanyahu must cancel this agreement immediately.”
In a reference to the Biblical Esau who sold his birthright to his brother, the patriarch Jacob, Meretz head MK Tamar Zandberg said the agreement “sold our people’s history for a bowl of lentil soup.”
“Netanyahu has signed an agreement that the world’s prominent anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers would agree with,” she said in a statement. “He gives them legitimacy.”
Zandberg charged that the agreement is part of “the phenomenon of Netanyahu and Likud joining with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi leaders and parties around the world.”
The Foreign Ministry confirmed this week that Netanyahu will host Hungary’s President Victor Orban later this month. Numerous Israeli lawmakers have urged Netanyahu not to do so, citing among other things the right-wing Hungarian leader’s campaign against the Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros that many considered obliquely anti-Semitic.
Former foreign minister and current Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni called the agreement a “disgrace.”
“Netanyahu’s disgracing of the memory of the Holocaust at the expense of the State of Israel and the entire Jewish people will be remembered forever,” Livni says in a statement. “The person who constantly uses the Holocaust as a political tool gave moral validity in the name of the Jewish people to a shocking historical distortion.”
Livni charged that the Polish government has used Netanyahu “as a tool to whitewash its past” and says the agreement “must be canceled immediately.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.