Bennett to visit Poland amid row over Holocaust bill
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Bennett to visit Poland amid row over Holocaust bill

Education minister says on his trip he'll 'tell the truth' about the Polish people's 'proven involvement in the murder of Jews' during WWII

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (2nd-L), Rabbi Meir Lau (2nd-R) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (R) take part in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland on April 24, 2017. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (2nd-L), Rabbi Meir Lau (2nd-R) and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (R) take part in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland on April 24, 2017. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett will make an official visit to Poland on Wednesday amid strained ties between Jerusalem and Warsaw over a bill that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Holocaust atrocities committed in the country.

In a statement from his office, Bennett said he will use the trip “to tell the truth” about the Polish people’s complicity in crimes against Jews committed by the Nazis.

“I am determined to say explicitly [what] history has already proved — the Polish nation had a proven involvement in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust,” he said. Bennett said he will tell them: “I came to tell the truth where the truth occurred.”

“The message is loud and clear: The past cannot be rewritten and the future we’ll write together,” added Bennett, who heads the national-religious Jewish Home party.

While in Poland, Bennett will meet with Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, who doubles as the country’s minister of science and higher education. He will also speak with Polish students and visit the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial, according to his office.

Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks during the official ceremony marking the 73rd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland, April 19, 2016. (AP/Czarek Sokolowski)

Bennett’s trip to Poland comes as the Polish government has continued to advance the controversial bill despite the objection of Israel and Jewish groups, who say the legislation could hamper Holocaust research and cover up the role of some Poles in the murder of Jews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the bill as a “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”

Poland says the bill is necessary to prevent the country from being blamed for the crimes of the Holocaust. It outlaws the term “Polish death camp” to describe Nazi-run extermination camps in the country when it was occupied during World War II, a phrase that has drawn Warsaw’s ire.

The bill was approved by Poland’s lower house of parliament on January 26 — the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day — and passed the Senate on Wednesday. To become law, the bill must be signed by President Andrzej Duda, who has indicated he supports the legislation and last week criticized Israel’s “violent” reaction. He has three weeks from the Senate’s vote to sign the bill into law.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party who is considered Poland’s most powerful politician, said Saturday Duda should approve the bill, which he said is “being interpreted totally wrong.”

Amid the row over the bill, Israel’s embassy in Warsaw on Friday condemned a “wave of anti-Semitic statements,” many of which it said were directed at Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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