Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said he expected Poland to amend proposed legislation that would outlaw the blaming of the Polish nation for crimes committed during the Holocaust, as the Foreign Ministry summoned a Polish envoy to express its displeasure.
Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that Israel has “no tolerance for the distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”
The lower house of the Polish parliament’s bill prescribes prison time for referring to “Polish death camps” and criminalizes the mention of Polish complicity in Nazi crimes.
“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 bill 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.
The legislation 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.
On Sunday, the Foreign Ministry said it had 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.
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.”
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.
— יאיר לפיד (@yairlapid) January 27, 2018
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.”
Polish officials claim the law aims not to “whitewash” but rather “to safeguard” history.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki pushed back against the Israeli anger over the bill, saying that the name Auschwitz and the phrase “Arbeit macht frei,” two of the Holocaust’s most enduring symbols, were not Polish.