Polish officials said Saturday that they would invite Israel’s Eurovision representative, pop star Noa Kirel, for a visit to learn about Poland firsthand after her “painful” comments about the country.
Kirel, who came third in last week’s European songfest, sparked controversy in the eastern European nation, including criticism from politicians and denunciations in Polish media, when she described being awarded the maximum 12 points by Poland as a victory for her family and for the people of Israel.
“When Poland gives Israel 12 points, after almost the entire Kirel family was murdered in the Holocaust, it is a victory,” Kirel told Israel’s Kan news immediately after the competition.
“To receive 12 points from Poland, after the history of my family and of the people of Israel in the Holocaust, moments like that are really a victory,” she added in similar comments to the Ynet news site, when asked directly about the significance of being given maximum points by Poland.
Members of Kirel’s father’s family were killed at Auschwitz. She visited the death camp with her father in 2019.
In a long post on social media on Saturday, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński said he would invite Kirel to Poland “to understand why she thinks about our homeland in this way and to explain why [her comments] are painful to us.”
The incident touches on a long-running dispute between Israel and Poland over Warsaw’s ongoing efforts to minimize Polish responsibility for the persecution and mass murder of Jews on its territory during the Holocaust.
Jabłoński said Kirel should come and “see with her own eyes the places where Nazi Germany committed cruel crimes against Poles and Jews in our country.”
Jabłoński said the phenomenon of many in Israel viewing “Poland to be a co-perpetrator of German crimes — not their victim — is often the result, not so much of bad will, as lack of knowledge and incomplete education.”
He highlighted Israeli youth trips to Poland, saying they gave an incorrect picture of the Holocaust to Israelis.
The trips are at the heart of a recently signed agreement between Israel and Poland to restore long-tense diplomatic relations.
That deal has come under widespread criticism in Israel, which says it coopts the Polish stance, despite scholars noting the significant evidence of cooperation by Poles with the Nazi regime.
The agreement is a step toward normalizing ties with Poland, which until several years ago was one of the most pro-Israel countries in the European Union. Relations deteriorated in 2018, after Poland passed legislation that outlawed blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. Then-foreign minister Yair Lapid called the law antisemitic, touching off a diplomatic row.
The agreement will see the Israeli student groups visit a list of Polish-recommended sites that critics say provide a distorted view of the Holocaust, ignore Polish complicity in the Holocaust and aggrandize efforts by Poles to save Jews.
In his tweet on Saturday, Jabłoński said the new framework for student trips “will, in the long run, allow us to build good Polish-Israeli relations, based on truth and mutual understanding that both our nations were victims of German crimes.”
“The longer and more effectively we work on it, the less there will be bad stereotypes or untrue and painful statements for millions of people in Poland, such as the one by Noa Kirel,” he said.
Young Jewish Israelis traditionally travel to Poland in the summer between 11th and 12th grade, touring former Nazi camps in order to learn about the Holocaust and memorialize those murdered. The trip has long been considered a rite of passage in Israeli education and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some 40,000 Israeli students participated each year.
Poland was the first country invaded and occupied by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s regime during World War II and never had a collaborationist government. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile struggled to warn the world about the mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews.
However, Holocaust researchers have collected ample evidence of Polish people who murdered Jews who were fleeing the Nazis, or Polish blackmailers who preyed on helpless Jews for financial gain.
Six million Jews, including nearly all of Poland’s roughly 3 million Jews, were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, and major Nazi death camps were in Poland.