Israel’s Foreign Ministry will convene an emergency meeting over a remark by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on Saturday that Jewish perpetrators were also responsible for the Holocaust.
“The statements by Poland’s prime minister are grave and warrant an apology to the Jewish people for distorting the memory of the Holocaust,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in a statement late Saturday night.
“We cannot accept such outrageous comparisons,” Hotovely added. “In light of the ongoing crisis with the Polish government, I intend to convene an emergency meeting at the Foreign Ministry with all the relevant parties.”
The deputy foreign minister did not specify when the meeting would take place.
Deputy Diplomacy Minister Michael Oren on Saturday night urged Israel to explore all options — “including returning our ambassador from Warsaw and even cutting diplomatic ties” — in response to the Polish premier’s comment.
“I just got off the phone with our friends in Washington about the possibility of applying American pressure on the Polish government, which denies its role in the Holocaust and even blames the Jews,” Oren wrote on Twitter in Hebrew.
“The State of Israel cannot abide anti-Semitism of any kind,” he added.
Addressing the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Morawiecki was rejecting criticism of a new law that criminalizes mentions of Polish state complicity in the Holocaust, when he was asked by an Israeli journalist if sharing his family’s history of persecution in Poland would be outlawed under the new legislation.
“Of course it’s not going to be punishable, [it’s] not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian; not only German perpetrators,” Morawiecki told Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman.
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In response to Bergman’s question, Morawiecki said the new law aimed to prevent falsely attributing Nazi crimes in Poland under Nazi occupation to Polish government policy at the time. He said that last year Polish embassies had to respond 260 times to statements referring to “Polish death camps.”
He said the Polish people generally aided their “Jewish brothers and sisters” during the war, and that the lines between Holocaust victims and perpetrators were becoming increasingly blurred.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also in Germany for the security conference, responded that “the Polish prime minister’s remarks here in Munich are outrageous. There is a problem here of an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people. I intend to speak with him forthwith.”
Morawiecki’s remark was also harshly criticized by Israeli opposition lawmakers, who accused him of “Holocaust denial,” “anti-Semitism” and “distortion of history,” and calling on the Israeli government to recall its ambassador from Poland.
Israel hasn’t taken that step, however, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett also said trips by Israeli high school students to Polish Jewish sites and Nazi death camps are to continue despite the diplomatic dispute.
“I have deeply considered the matter and decided to continue the trips to Poland,” Bennett said on Twitter in response to calls to nix the trips.
“[The trips’] goal is to endow the memory of the Holocaust and they are, factually, the most effective tool for that,” Bennett explained.
“The preparations, the familiarity with the life of Poland’s Jews, and above all the visit at Auschwitz-Birkenau are irreplaceable. We will not punish ourselves because of the behavior of the Polish government,” he concluded.
The new Polish legislation prescribes prison time for using phrases such as “Polish death camps” to refer to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II. Its provisions run wider, however:
“Whoever accuses, publicly and against the facts, the Polish nation, or the Polish state, of being responsible or complicit in the Nazi crimes committed by the Third German Reich… or other crimes against peace and humanity, or war crimes, or otherwise grossly diminishes the actual perpetrators thereof, shall be subject to a fine or a penalty of imprisonment of up to three years,” a translation of a key paragraph of the bill reads.
The dispute has elicited bitter recriminations. Some Israelis have accused the mostly Catholic Poles of being driven by anti-Semitism and of trying to deny the Holocaust. Poles believe that they are being defamed by being linked to German crimes, of which they were one of the largest group of victims.
Israel, along with several international Holocaust organizations and many critics in Poland, argues that the law could have a chilling effect on debating history, harming freedom of expression and leading to a whitewashing of Poland’s wartime history.
Netanyahu has pilloried the law as “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history, and the denial of the Holocaust.”
Amid the dispute some Polish commentators, including in government-controlled media, have made strong anti-Jewish remarks.
In one instance, the head of a state-run channel suggested referring to Auschwitz as a “Jewish death camp,” in response to an outcry over use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the Nazi killing site in German-occupied Poland.
The Associated Press and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.