WARSAW, Poland — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu potentially sparked a fresh quarrel with Poland Thursday when he appeared to point at Polish collaboration with the Nazi regime.
Asked by The Times of Israel about an agreement between Israel and Poland to end a bitter dispute over a law passed by Warsaw that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Holocaust crimes, Netanyahu denied suggestions of going along with historical revisionism.
“Here I am saying Poles cooperated with the Nazis. I know the history and I don’t whitewash it. I bring it up,” he said.
In some news reports, Netanyahu was quoted as saying “The Poles cooperated with the Nazis,” though Netanyahu’s office clarified that he did not say “the” and played a tape recording of the comments to reporters to confirm this.
Nonetheless, some Poles expressed unhappiness with the comments, made while the Israeli premier was visiting Warsaw for a Mideast security conference hosted by the US and Poland.
Beata Mazurek, deputy speaker of the Polish parliament for the ruling Law and Justice party, said on Twitter the party would introduce a measure in the Sejm to condemn the “unacceptable comments made during the Middle East conference.”
A Polish source was quoted telling the Israeli Ynet news website that there were fears Netanyahu’s comments could spark a fresh diplomatic row with Poland.
Netanyahu has been courting closer ties with Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe as part of a bid to build up a bloc of support within the EU. Israel is supposedly slated to host an upcoming meeting of the Visegrad group within the EU, which Includes Poland, Hungary and other European countries friendly to Israel, but a new tiff with Warsaw could endanger those plans.
The dispute over the Polish Holocaust law was resolved last year when Poland softened the law and Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart agreed on a joint declaration stressing the involvement of the Polish resistance in helping Jews. It was seen as a diplomatic coup for Poland but Netanyahu faced criticism from historians in Israel, including at Yad Vashem, for agreeing to a statement that they said distorted history.
“The idea that we distort history or hide it is nonsense,” Netanyahu said Thursday.
He said the law came up in a meeting earlier on Thursday with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
Leading Israeli historians have harshly criticized the joint statement, arguing it inaccurately adopts the Polish narrative of the Holocaust, overstating Polish efforts to rescue Jews and understating anti-Jewish atrocities committed by Poles.
Last July, Netanyahu said he had taken note of the criticism and would address it at a later time, but he has not done so.
“Since then I heard that some of the historians have changed their mind,” he said, refusing to elaborate.
Polish sensitivity over the topic was highlighted Thursday, when Veteran NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell issued an apology after she said during a live Wednesday evening report from Warsaw that Jews in the ghetto rose up against the “Polish and Nazi regime.”
The Polish Embassy in Washington had called the conflating of occupied Poland with the occupying German Nazis “a serious distortion of history” and said MSNBC should clarify the historical facts.
“I misspoke on the show yesterday when I discussed the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. To be clear, the Polish government was not involved in these horrific acts. I apologize for the unfortunate inaccuracy,” Mitchell wrote on Twitter.
Morawiecki, who visited a memorial for the Warsaw Ghetto uprising with Netanyahu and US Vice President Mike Pence Thursday, wrote on Twitter that “In Poland, occupied by Germany, there was no ‘Polish regime’ – a great misunderstanding of the conditions of war. Both Poles and Jews were brutally murdered by the Germans. Polish soldiers fought every day for WWII for the freedom and life of all nations.”
It was unclear if the post was in response to Netanyahu or Mitchell.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.