Knesset foreign affairs committee to urge recall of Israel’s envoy to Poland
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Knesset foreign affairs committee to urge recall of Israel’s envoy to Poland

Members of powerful forum will demand government ramp up protest against controversial law that bans attributing blame for Holocaust to the Polish nation

Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nachmias Verbin reacts during a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nachmias Verbin reacts during a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on December 3, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Members of the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee are preparing an initiative that will demand that Israel recall its ambassador to Poland in protest of a recently passed controversial law that prohibits attributing blame for the Holocaust to the Polish nation or government.

Committee member Zionist Union MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin raised the idea of recalling ambassador Anna Azari and has so far gained support from both opposition and coalition lawmakers, including from the Kulanu, Jewish Home, and Yisrael Beytenu parties, the Kan broadcaster reported Monday.

The Polish bill, which was signed into law last week by President Andrzej Duda but has yet to receive final approval from the country’s constitutional court, has sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel.

Jerusalem says the legislation, which criminalizes accusing the Polish nation or state for the crimes of the Holocaust, will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

Nahmias-Verbin suggests the committee hold an internal debate on the matter after which it will officially call on the government to recall its ambassador, as a way of putting pressure on Poland.

The opinion of committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud) on the move is not clear, the report said.

Israeli Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari speaks at a ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Oswiecim, Poland, on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2018 (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, who also sits on the committee, told the radio station he opposes bringing the envoy back because it doesn’t advance a solution to the diplomatic divide.

“Israel has given its objection and needs to continue to do so,” he said. “This law is a shameful law and there is no way to explain it in Israel, but we need to look to the future. It isn’t terrible to recall the ambassador but I don’t support it.”

As currently written, the Polish legislation 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 Polish government says the main aim of the law is to prevent people from erroneously describing Nazi German death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau as Polish, simply because they were set up on Polish soil.

One key paragraph of the bill 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.”

In Israel, Holocaust survivors and others with roots in Poland fear it will allow the government to whitewash the role some Poles had in killing Jews during World War II.

On Friday, Channel 10 reported that the Foreign Ministry warned the Polish government not to send a delegation to Israel to discuss the law unless it is prepared to amend the controversial legislation.

The condemnation in Israel has came from across the political spectrum, with some lawmakers accusing the Polish government of outright Holocaust denial as the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day last month.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the Polish law “baseless” and said that “history cannot be rewritten.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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