Netanyahu aides insist Yad Vashem approved controversial Holocaust declaration

Hours after national memorial slams joint Israeli-Polish statement as ‘highly problematic,’ PM’s negotiators say chief historian signed off on text

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on April 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Amir Cohen)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem on April 24, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Amir Cohen)

Hours after the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum slammed the “highly problematic” Israeli-Polish declaration on the Holocaust, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s negotiators insisted the national memorial approved the text of the joint statement that has drawn widespread condemnation.

In a statement, Joseph Ciechanover and Yaakov Nagel said that Dina Porat, Yad Vashem’s chief historian, “accompanied the process from its inception.”

“Historical statements that appear in the declaration were approved by her,” it said.

“The joint declaration signed by the Polish government includes an explicit reference to the fact that the ability to carry out research freely is preserved and that no law prevents or will prevent that in the future,” it added.

The Times of Israel reported this week that while Porat was involved in the secret negotiations with Warsaw, she did not see the final draft of the statement until it was released last week.

On June 27, Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki signed an agreement that ended the spat between the two countries over a controversial Polish law that criminalized any accusation of the Polish nation being “responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.”

Israeli historian, Dina Porat, chief historian at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum on May 29, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Minutes after the Polish parliament passed legislation to remove the troubling passages and President Anderzej Duda signed it into law, the Israeli and Polish governments issued a joint statement on the Holocaust and Poland’s role in it.

It declared that the term “Polish death camps” is “blatantly erroneous” and that the wartime Polish government-in-exile “attempted to stop this Nazi activity by trying to raise awareness among the Western allies to the systematic murder of the Polish Jews.”

The joint declaration, issued last Wednesday simultaneously by Netanyahu and Morawiecki, also rejected anti-Semitism and “anti-Polonism.”

Most controversially, it condemned “every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during…World War II,” but noted “heroic acts of numerous Poles, especially the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives to save Jewish people.”

On Thursday, Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and research center, released a scathing analysis of the amended law and joint statement. The joint declaration issued by Warsaw and Jerusalem “contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field,” the institution said in a press release.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland visits the Ulma Family Museum, Jan. 2, 2018. Right-wing critics in his country accused Morawiecki of capitulating to Israel in softening a law on Holocaust rhetoric. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

“A thorough review by Yad Vashem historians shows that the historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deceptions,” the museum said.

It pointed to the joint declaration’s assertion that “numerous Poles” had risked their lives to rescue Jews.

“Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread phenomena,” Yad Vashem said.

It added that the amended law remained problematic, warning of “the possibility of real harm to researchers, unimpeded research, and the historical memory of the Holocaust.”

The joint Israeli-Polish declaration also drew criticism from lawmakers leaders across the political spectrum.

On Thursday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett slammed the declaration as “a disgrace, saturated with lies, [and] a betrayal of the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.” He said the statement, which “has no factual basis,” would not be included in Israeli school curriculums in the future.

Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, said the joint statement was “a disgrace and a scandalous embarrassment to the memory of Holocaust victims,” and called on Netanyahu to cancel the agreement.

Meretz head MK Tamar Zandberg said Netanyahu signed an agreement that the world’s prominent anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers would agree with: “He gives them legitimacy.”

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