Netanyahu calls Polish PM’s claim of Jewish Holocaust perpetrators ‘outrageous’
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Netanyahu calls Polish PM’s claim of Jewish Holocaust perpetrators ‘outrageous’

Mateusz Morawiecki's remarks show 'an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people,' PM says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a lunch meeting at the 54th Munich Security Conference on February 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/ DPA/Sven Hoppe)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a lunch meeting at the 54th Munich Security Conference on February 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/ DPA/Sven Hoppe)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned as “outrageous” his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki’s remark Saturday that Jewish perpetrators were also responsible for the Holocaust.

“The Polish prime minister’s remarks here in Munich are outrageous,” said Netanyahu, who is also in Germany for a security conference.

“There is a problem here of an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people. I intend to speak with him forthwith,” Netanyahu said in a statement from Munich.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gives a speech during the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2018 in Munich, southern Germany. (AFP PHOTO / Thomas KIENZLE)

Addressing the Munich Security Conference earlier, Morawiecki was rejecting criticism of a new law that criminalizes mentions of Polish state complicity in the Holocaust, when he was asked by an Israeli journalist if sharing his family’s history of persecution in Poland would be outlawed under the new legislation.

“Of course it’s not going to be punishable, [it’s] not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian; not only German perpetrators,” Morawiecki told Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman.

Morawiecki’s was harshly criticized by opposition lawmakers.

“Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talks like the last of the Holocaust deniers. The blood of millions of Jews cries out from the ground in Poland over the distortion of history and escape from blame,” tweeted party leader Avi Gabbay.

“Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and Poles took an active part in their murder. The Israeli government must be here for the millions murdered and strongly condemn the Polish prime minister’s words,” he said.

Tzipi Livni, a Zionist Union MK and former foreign minister who was in the audience, said it was “moving to hear Ronen Bergman asking/attacking the Polish prime minister over the law that forbids mentioning the participation of the Polish nation in the Holocaust, as [Bergman] told his family story and received applause from the audience.”

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, one of the most vocal Israeli critics of the Polish law, said Morawiecki’s statement is “anti-Semitism of the oldest kind.”

“The perpetrators are not the victims. The Jewish state will not allow the murdered to be blamed for their own murder,” he said, while calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to recall Israel’s ambassador to Warsaw.

Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova said Morawiecki’s remark “shows his true face.”

“It should be remembered that according to the most conservative estimate 200,000 Jews in Poland were murdered by Poles,” she tweeted, adding that “the crisis with Poland is only getting worse and there is no room here for compromises.”

“If we don’t stand up for the truth, no will do it for us.”

Fellow Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli also criticized the Polish prime minister, saying the next phase in his “pathetic project” would be “blaming the Jews for their own Holocaust.”

In response to Bergman’s question, Morawiecki said the new law aimed to prevent falsely attributing Nazi crimes in Poland under Nazi occupation to Polish government policy at the time. He said that last year Polish embassies had to respond 260 times to statements referring to “Polish death camps.”

He said the Polish people generally aided their “Jewish brothers and sisters” during the war, and that the lines between Holocaust victims and perpetrators were becoming increasingly blurred.

The legislation prescribes prison time for using phrases such as “Polish death camps” to refer to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II. Its provisions run wider, however:

“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.

The legislation sparked outrage in Israel, with some lawmakers accusing the Polish government of outright Holocaust denial.

The dispute has elicited bitter recriminations on both sides. Some Israelis have accused the mostly Catholic Poles of being driven by anti-Semitism and of trying to deny the Holocaust. Poles believe that they are being defamed by being linked to German crimes, of which they were one of the largest group of victims.

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.

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

Amid the dispute some Polish commentators, including in government-controlled media, have made strong anti-Jewish remarks.

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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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