One in two Israelis has negative view of Poland, new survey shows

Two thirds say Poles are reluctant to admit Holocaust complicity, but 65% say bilateral ties should focus on the present and future, not the past

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A woman wrapped in an Israeli flag at the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland, April 11, 2018 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A woman wrapped in an Israeli flag at the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland, April 11, 2018 (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

One in two Israelis has a negative opinion of Poland, although a large majority believe that Poles, too, suffered at the hands of the Nazis, according to a new survey commissioned by the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv.

At the same time, two-thirds of respondents said Poland has been reluctant to admit its complicity in the Holocaust.

The poll, presented to a handful of reporters Thursday in the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv, is an effort by the right-wing government in Warsaw to examine and improve the country’s image in Israel after a recent controversy over the roles of Poles in atrocities against Jews during World War II.

“We commissioned this survey because we know very well that bilateral relations are very important for Poland and for Israel — more important than relations with other countries,” Ambassador Marek Magierowski‏‎ said, opening his remarks in Hebrew.

“We wanted to know if we have to change something in our policy, here at Polish Embassy in Israel, and in the Polish government in Warsaw,” Magierowski added.

Continuing in English, Magierowski‏‎ said he was not surprised by the poll’s findings, adding that in Israel there was “low awareness of what modern-day Poland is.”

Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski in Jerusalem, October 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Strong relations with Jerusalem “are of utmost importance to the Polish government,” the ambassador went on. “This is a priority, to strengthen these ties. Because Israel is so important for us, for so many reasons: political, economic and historical, of course. The ties have always been strong. We hope they can get stronger.”

According to the poll, 49 percent of respondents have an “unfavorable” impression of Poland (of those 33% said “somewhat favorable” and 16% “very unfavorable.”) Thirty-seven percent had a “somewhat favorable” view of the country, and only five percent “very favorable.” Nine percent had no opinion.

Once presented with a number of “facts” about Poland — such as the government’s condemnations of Hamas rocket attacks, the very low number of anti-Semitic incidents there, the absence of an organized effort to boycott Israel, and the rapidly growing economy — respondents’ attitude toward the country significantly improved.

At the end of the survey, they were asked again about their views, and more than three-quarters (76%) now had a favorable perception of Poland, while only 19 said they still have an unfavorable view.

The survey, conducted by the Jerusalem-based Keevoon polling company, also sought to understand how Israelis view Poland’s role in the Holocaust.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) of respondents said they agree with this statement: “During the Holocaust, Poles were also victims of Nazi oppression even though their suffering cannot be compared to the tragedy of the Jewish nation.”

At the same time, two-thirds (67%) approved this statement: “Poland has been reluctant to fully accept responsibility for the role its citizens played during the Holocaust.”

“This is just one indication of how much work we still have ahead,” said Magierowski‏‎. “On the other hand, it is also an indication of how important it is to combat stereotypes.”

The issue of Polish complicity in the Nazi genocide of the Jews has recently been a major sticking point in bilateral relations, after the Polish government passed a law last year prohibiting people from blaming the Polish nation for Holocaust atrocities.

The law was heavily criticized in Israel and elsewhere, which led Warsaw to amend the law, making such claims no longer a crime punishable by prison. Israel and Poland also issued a joint statement that many Israeli historians condemned as inaccurately adopting Poland’s narrative of the Holocaust.

The poll, which was conducted in December among 1,027 Israeli adults, and has a margin of error of 2.15 percent, did not ask specific questions about the joint statement.

Holocaust survivor Edward Mossberg (left) with Polish president Andrzej Duda (center) and Israeli president Reuven Rivlin (right) at a ceremony in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland, as Israel marked annual Holocaust Memorial Day, on April 12, 2018. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

The survey did find, however, that most Israelis (65%) think bilateral relations should focus more “on the present and the future, including trade relations and support for Israel.” Only 23% said Israel-Poland ties should focus more on the past, including the two nations’ common heritage and the Holocaust.

“Over the last few months we’ve been mostly talking about history, which is inescapable,” said Magierowski‏‎.

“We’ll always be talking about history. We’ll always have these historical links, between Poles and Jews; these 900-plus years of common history of Jews living in Poland, and the tragic six years of World War II and the Holocaust, which was perpetrated mostly by the German Nazis, unfortunately in occupied Poland,” he added.

“But this is not the only topic we should talk about.”

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