Israeli, Polish delegations begin ‘open, candid’ dialogue on Holocaust law
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Israeli, Polish delegations begin ‘open, candid’ dialogue on Holocaust law

Foreign Ministry chief asserts that 'historical truths' need be preserved along with freedom of research and speech

Members of Israeli and Polish delegations attend a special dialogue at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem on March 1, 2018, regarding the Polish controversial Holocaust law. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)
Members of Israeli and Polish delegations attend a special dialogue at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem on March 1, 2018, regarding the Polish controversial Holocaust law. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

Senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem on Thursday in a bid to resolve differences over a controversial Holocaust law passed in Poland that has raised concerns in the Jewish state, with both sides vowing to preserve “the truth.”

Deputy foreign minister Bartosz Cichocki led the visiting Polish delegation, while Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem headed Israel’s team.

“I look forward to an open candid and friendly dialogue between Israel and Poland as expected between friends and allies,” Rotem told journalists before the start of the meeting. “We must make sure that historical truths are preserved and that there is no restriction on freedom of research and speech.”

“Preserving the memory of the Holocaust is a matter beyond the bilateral relationship between Israel and Poland. It is a core issue cutting to the essence of the Jewish people.”

Join us LIVE from the Press briefing by the Israeli & Polish delegations to the dialogue following the Polish law. Briefing headed by Israel MFA's Director General Rotem & Polish Deputy FM Cichocki.

Posted by Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, 1 March 2018

Rotem said the Israelis would also raise “an observed increase in anti-Semitic manifestations” recently, but noted Poland’s leadership had come out against them.

Cichocki said, “We are committed to join our efforts to promote truth about the Holocaust and the Polish-Jewish centuries-old relationship.”

Thursday’s meeting lasted three hours, following which the sides were expected to release a joint statement.

The legislation that went into effect on Thursday makes it a crime to accuse the Polish nation of Nazi-era atrocities.

As currently written, the law calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

The legislation, proposed by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, warning it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

One key paragraph of the law states, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem (L) listens to Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki speak during a special dialogue at the foreign ministry in Jerusalem, on March 1, 2018, regarding the Polish controversial Holocaust law. (Gali Tibbon/AFP)

Jewish groups, Holocaust survivors, and Israeli officials fear its true aim is to repress research on Poles who killed Jews during World War II. The law and subsequent backlash have unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism in Poland.

The law has also created tensions with Ukraine due to a provision that criminalizes denying the wartime crimes of Ukrainian nationalists, who killed up to about 100,000 Poles in wartime massacres.

Poland’s president signed the law last month but also sent it to the constitutional court for review. Polish officials have said no criminal charges will be brought until the court has made its ruling, expected in several weeks.

But prosecutors are already looking for cases where Poland is defamed over its wartime activities.

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