Netanyahu, Polish PM talk, agree to iron out row over Holocaust legislation
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Netanyahu, Polish PM talk, agree to iron out row over Holocaust legislation

Sides to open dialogue aimed at reaching ‘understanding’ over bill criminalizing blaming the Polish nation for Holocaust atrocities

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath at a memorial ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp and to honor the victims of the Holocaust, in Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland, on International Holocaust Memorial Day. January 27, 2010. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath at a memorial ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz camp and to honor the victims of the Holocaust, in Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland, on International Holocaust Memorial Day. January 27, 2010. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to his Polish counterpart Sunday night, as the two attempted to set aside a diplomatic spat over legislation in Warsaw that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Nazi atrocities.

Netanyahu has pilloried the law, which prescribes prison time for referring to “Polish death camps,” and criminalizes the mention of Polish complicity in Nazi crimes, as “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”

Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki “agreed to immediately open a dialogue between staffs of the two countries, in order to try and reach an understanding over the legislation,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office read.

The statement came after Netanyahu said he expected Poland to fix the law.

Earlier in the day, the Foreign Ministry summoned Poland’s deputy ambassador to express Israel’s opposition to the bill, and said it expects the draft to be amended before final approval.

“The legislation will not help continue exposing the historical truth and can impede the freedom of research,” a statement said.

The bill, passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament, still needs approval from Poland’s Senate and president. Still, it marks a dramatic step by the nationalist government to enforce its official stance that all Poles were heroes during the war. Historians say many Poles collaborated with the Nazis and committed heinous crimes.

Mateusz Morawiecki signs a document confirming him as Poland’s new prime minister at the presidential palace in Warsaw on December 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Janek Skarzynski)

Earlier Sunday evening, Morawiecki appeared to continue backing the law, tweeting an allegory about blaming a family for the murder of another family.

“A gang of professional thugs enters a two-family house.They kill the first family almost entirely.They kill the parents of the second, torturing the kids.They loot and raze the house. Could one, in good conscience, say that the second family is guilty for the murder of the first?” he wrote.

On Saturday, he defended the Polish stance, saying the name Auschwitz and the saying “Arbeit macht frei,” German for “Work makes you free,” were not Polish.

Polish officials claim the law aims not to “whitewash,” but rather “to safeguard” history.

A student on a trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in modern-day Poland on April 27, 2014. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said in a statement on Sunday that he would review the legislation and present his “final evaluation of procedural legal provisions after the completion of parliament’s work and a careful analysis of the final shape of the act.”

But the legislation has still sparked outrage in Israel, with some lawmakers accusing the Polish government of outright Holocaust denial, as the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Saturday.

In a statement Saturday, Netanyahu called the Polish bill “baseless” and said “history cannot be rewritten.

“The Holocaust cannot be denied,” he wrote, adding that he had instructed the Israeli embassy in Poland to “meet tonight with the Polish prime minister to relay my firm stance against this bill.”

His statement came on the heels of a heated Twitter exchange over the bill between Yair Lapid, the chairman of the opposition Yesh Atid party, and the Polish embassy in Israel.

Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor, took to Twitter to slam the bill, characterizing it as an effort to rewrite history.

“I strongly condemn the new law that was passed in Poland, which attempts to deny the involvement of many Polish citizens in the Holocaust,” Lapid wrote on Saturday. “No Polish law will change history, Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered on its soil without them having met any German officer.”

The embassy in Israel hit back at Lapid, tweeting that his “unsupportable claims show how badly Holocaust education is needed, even here in Israel.” The intent of the Polish legislation, it said, “is not to ‘whitewash’ the past, but to protect the truth against such slander.”

In response, Lapid demanded an apology: “I am a son of a Holocaust survivor. My grandmother was murdered in Poland by Germans and Poles. I don’t need Holocaust education from you. We live with the consequences every day in our collective memory. Your embassy should offer an immediate apology.”

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