Israeli envoy to Poland says attempting to nix Holocaust law inadvisable

Anna Azeri explains a move to cancel controversial legislation would ignite renewed inflammatory debate, hopes its scope will reduced by courts

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Israel's Ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari. (YouTube screenshot)
Israel's Ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari. (YouTube screenshot)

Israel’s ambassador to Poland said Thursday that it was in Israel’s interests that Warsaw keep its controversial Holocaust Law on the books, albeit in a reduced form.

Speaking to Israel Radio on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Anna Azari said cancellation of the law would lead to renewed debates in the Polish parliament about defending the honor of the country.

“For us, I think it would preferable if the courts would give a precise, reduced interpretation” of the law, she said.

The Holocaust Law, which came into force last month, imposes fines or up to three years in jail on anyone who ascribes “responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich.”

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda gives a press conference on February 6, 2018 in Warsaw to announces that he will sign into law a controversial Holocaust bill which has sparked tensions with Israel, the US and Ukraine (AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI)

President Andrzej Duda approved the legislation in February over protests from Israel, the US, and the Jewish world, but said he would ask Poland’s constitutional court to evaluate it — leaving open the possibility it would be amended.

In late March, the Polish attorney general’s office described the law as partly unconstitutional, “dysfunctional,” and capable of undermining the Polish state’s authority.

Azari said she had the impression that Polish authorities were already working on legislative changes, but could not be sure until the court announced its ruling. “There’s a feeling that they’re moving in the right direction,” she said.

The issue has severely strained relations between Jerusalem and Warsaw.

The Polish government has said the legislation is a necessary tool to fight cases in which Poland is inaccurately blamed for Nazi German crimes that were carried out in occupied Poland during World War II.

Israel, the US and other critics, however, fear that the law — which is in any case unenforceable outside of Poland — is really aimed at trying to stifle research and discussion within Poland into anti-Jewish wartime violence, something that casts a shadow over Polish wartime behavior that was otherwise mostly honorable and marked by profound suffering.

Azari said that she was more worried about the tide of anti-Semitism that had entered public discourse than about the law itself.

The embassy was constantly monitoring surveys and research and knew that “around 20% or more” of the population harbored anti-Semitic feelings, she said.

What had changed was these sentiments were now being aired in public.

But Polish authorities understood that they had a problem, she added, and she expected that they would start to deal with it.

Participants carrying Israeli flags at the former Nazi-German Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp during the ‘March of the Living’ at Oswiecim in Krakow, Poland on April 24, 2017. (Omar Marques/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images via JTA)

Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and his Polish counterpart Duda were to participate in the annual March of the Living on Thursday at the former Nazi Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland.

That was another element of the bilateral relationship that Israel was keen to develop, Azari said.

“Nobody wants to throw the very friendly relations between the two countries into the trash,” she went on, adding that the joint participation of the two presidents at Auschwitz was the right thing to do in light of the anti-Semitic wave.

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