Israeli officials have reportedly protested to the Polish government over Warsaw’s global media campaign to tout the joint Israeli-Polish declaration signed last week.
An NGO linked to the Polish government took out full-page ads in newspapers in Israel, the US, Germany, Poland and elsewhere containing the text of the declaration, signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki on June 27, which Poland sees as exonerating it of accusations that Poles had any meaningful role in the Holocaust.
On Friday, Channel 10 reported that the Israeli government, reeling from criticism at home over the content of the joint declaration, has complained bitterly to Warsaw about the ad campaign over the last 24 hours.
“The Polish campaign was a violation of the spirit of the understandings” reached between Israel and Poland, Israeli officials said Friday, according to Channel 10 news.
Israel is also said to have complained to Poland that it had “used a diplomatic step intended to resolve a crisis between the two states for its public relations.”
The declaration, which has been castigated by Yad Vashem, Netanyahu’s coalition partners, opposition MKs and others, is part of an agreement that ended the diplomatic spat between the two countries over a controversial Polish law that criminalized any accusation of the Polish nation being “responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.”
The ads, which also appeared in Israeli newspapers with a Hebrew translation of the statement that differed slightly from the official Israeli version, have been interpreted by many in Israel as a sign that Poland sees Israel as having capitulated to the Polish narrative.
The campaign “to prove that Israel is clearing the Poles of all responsibility is grave and embarrassing,” Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli said Thursday.
After the ads came out, the declaration’s content was roundly condemned by Israel’s main Holocaust museum and memorial, Yad Vashem, which said Thursday it “contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field.” It was also slammed by politicians on the left and right.
Netanyahu and his staff have yet to respond to concerns about the declaration’s content, though they defended the process that produced the declaration.
Hours after Yad Vashem slammed the joint statement as “highly problematic,” Netanyahu’s negotiators insisted the national memorial itself had approved the text.
In a statement, negotiators Joseph Ciechanover and Yaakov Nagel said that Dina Porat, Yad Vashem’s chief historian, “accompanied the process from its inception.”
“Historical statements that appear in the declaration were approved by her,” they said.
And they added: “The joint declaration signed by the Polish government includes an explicit reference to the fact that the ability to carry out research freely is preserved and that no law prevents or will prevent that in the future.”
The Times of Israel reported this week that while Porat was involved in the secret negotiations with Warsaw, she did not see the final draft of the statement until it was released last week.
The declaration was issued on June 27 just minutes after the Polish parliament passed legislation to remove troubling passages from its controversial Holocaust law, which President Anderzej Duda signed into law.
The declaration says that the term “Polish death camps” is “blatantly erroneous” and that the wartime Polish government-in-exile “attempted to stop this Nazi activity [the killing of Jews] by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies to the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.”
The statement also rejected anti-Semitism and “anti-Polonism.”
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.”
Historians argue that the statement whitewashes harsh treatment suffered by Jews at the hands of Poles, including many who collaborated with the Nazis. Over 3 million Polish Jews perished in the Holocaust after Germany invaded Poland in 1939.
On Thursday, Yad Vashem issued a fierce critique of the text.
“A thorough review by Yad Vashem historians shows that the historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions,” the museum said.
It pointed to the joint declaration’s assertion that “numerous Poles” had risked their lives to rescue Jews.
“Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews [by Poles] were widespread phenomena,” Yad Vashem said.
It added that the amended law remained problematic, warning of “the possibility of real harm to researchers, unimpeded research, and the historical memory of the Holocaust.”
Politicians were also quick to criticize the joint statement — and Netanyahu for signing it.
On Thursday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett slammed the declaration as “a disgrace, saturated with lies, [and] a betrayal of the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.” He said the statement, which “has no factual basis,” would not be included in Israeli school curricula.
Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said the joint statement was “a disgrace and a scandalous embarrassment to the memory of Holocaust victims,” and called on Netanyahu to cancel the agreement.
Meretz head MK Tamar Zandberg said Netanyahu signed an agreement that the world’s prominent anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers would agree with. “He gives them legitimacy,” she charged.