Israel warns of rising anti-Semitism in Polish media

Concerned by rhetoric following controversial Holocaust Bill, Foreign Ministry considers issuing an appeal via embassy in Warsaw

Illustrative photo of the Polish parliament October 6, 2016. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)
Illustrative photo of the Polish parliament October 6, 2016. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday it was increasingly concerned about a spate of anti-Semitic expressions in the Polish media in the wake of the controversial Polish Holocaust bill that was approved by Poland’s lower house of parliament last week.

Ties between Warsaw and Jerusalem have been tense since Israel voiced its opposition to the bill, which criminalizes the blaming of the Polish state or nation for atrocities during the Holocaust. Jerusalem’s objections to the bill have angered the Poles.

“The Foreign Ministry is monitoring with concern the rising anti-Semitic feelings expressed through the Polish media and we are considering making an appeal via our embassy in Warsaw,” the ministry said.

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 director of the state-run television station TVP 2, Marcin Wolski, said Monday on air that the Nazi death camps should be called Jewish. “Who managed the crematoria there?” he asked — a reference to the fact that death camp prisoners, usually Jews, were forced to help dispose of gas chamber victims.

Wolski was joined on his show by a right-wing commentator, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, who only a day earlier had used an extremely derogatory term to refer to Jews on Twitter. The comment was later removed. And on another talk show Saturday on Polish state TV, anti-Semitic messages posted by viewers on Twitter were shown at the bottom of the screen as one participant said that a Jewish guest was “not really Polish.” The state TV director later apologized for the messages, blaming a technical glitch that caused them to go onto the screen unedited.

In another case, a Polish state radio commentator, Piotr Nisztor, suggested that Poles who support the Israeli position should consider relinquishing their citizenship. “If somebody acts as a spokesman for Israeli interests, maybe they should think about giving up their Polish citizenship and accepting Israeli citizenship,” Nisztor said in a comment carried on the radio’s official Twitter account.

This July 29, 2016, file photo shows the main gate of the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
This file photo from July 29, 2016, shows the main gate of the former German Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, Poland. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Poland’s lower house of parliament gave its approval Friday to the bill, which calls for penalties of up to three years in prison for anyone who “publicly and against the facts” accuses the Polish people of crimes committed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party says the law is meant to fight expressions like “Polish death camps” to refer to the wartime camps that Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland, but its provisions are wider, criminalizing talk of Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

“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.

Israel has pilloried the legislation as “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”

Poles were among those imprisoned, tortured and killed in the camps, and many today feel Poles are being unfairly depicted as perpetrators of the Holocaust.

Germany occupied Poland in 1939, annexing part of it to Germany and directly governing the rest. Unlike other countries occupied by Germany at the time, there was no collaborationist government in Poland. The prewar Polish government and military fled into exile, except for an underground resistance army that fought the Nazis inside the country.

However, there were many cases of Poles killing Jews or denouncing them to the Germans, with deadly anti-Semitic pogroms continuing during and in one case even after World War II.

The Israeli government in the past has supported the campaign against the phrase “Polish death camps,” but it has strongly criticized the new legislation, which still must be approved by the Senate and President Andrzej Duda, who both support it.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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