Poland on Monday canceled an upcoming visit by Education Minister Naftali Bennett after the latter said he would use the trip to tell Poles “the truth” about their complicity in the Holocaust, a Polish government spokesperson said.
“The government of Poland canceled my visit, because I mentioned the crimes of its people. I am honored,” Bennett said in a statement, arguing that in calling off the trip, the Polish government had chosen “to avoid the truth.”
“The blood of Polish Jews cries from the ground, and no law will silence it,” he said.
Hours earlier, Bennett’s office had announced that he would be making an official visit on Wednesday amid strained ties between Jerusalem and Warsaw over a bill that criminalizes blaming the Polish nation for Holocaust atrocities committed in the country.
In a statement from his office publicizing the visit, Bennett had said he was “determined to say explicitly [what] history has already proved — the Polish nation had a proven involvement in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust,” he said. Bennett said he would tell them, “I came to tell the truth where the truth occurred.
“The message is loud and clear: The past cannot be rewritten and the future we’ll write together,” added Bennett, who heads the national-religious Jewish Home party.
The education minister had been slated to meet with Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin, who doubles as the country’s minister of science and higher education. He was also supposed to speak with Polish students and visit the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial, according to his office.
In his statement following the cancellation, Bennett affirmed that “as the education minister for the state of the Jewish people, I will stand tall for I cannot forgive or relinquish the honor of those murdered.”
The trip would have come amid the Polish government’s continued plan to advance the controversial bill despite the objection of Israel and Jewish groups, who say the legislation could hamper Holocaust research and cover up the role of some Poles in the murder of Jews.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the bill as a “distortion of the truth, the rewriting of history and the denial of the Holocaust.”
Poland says the bill is necessary to prevent the country from being blamed for the crimes of the Holocaust. It outlaws blaming the Polish state or nation for Holocaust crimes and criminalizes use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe Nazi-run extermination camps in the country when it was occupied during World War II.
The bill was approved by Poland’s lower house of parliament on January 26 — the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day — and passed the Senate on Wednesday. To become law, it must be signed by President Andrzej Duda, who has indicated he supports the legislation and last week criticized Israel’s “violent” reaction. He has three weeks from the Senate’s vote to sign the bill into law.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the ruling Law and Justice party who is considered Poland’s most powerful politician, said Saturday Duda should approve the bill, which he said is “being interpreted totally wrong.”
Amid the row over the bill, Israel’s embassy in Warsaw on Friday condemned a “wave of anti-Semitic statements,” many of which it said were directed at Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari.
Agencies contributed to this report.