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Poland downgrades mission to Israel, says it won’t return ambassador

Jerusalem has also yet to send its top diplomat back to Warsaw after controversial restitution legislation that Israeli officials called ‘antisemitic and immoral’

Poland's then-ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, poses for a picture in Jerusalem, on October 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Poland's then-ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, poses for a picture in Jerusalem, on October 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Poland’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that the European Union nation will have no ambassador in Israel for the time being, bringing the mission level down to that of Israel’s mission in Poland.

The traditionally sensitive bilateral relations soured in the summer after Poland adopted legislation seen as banning claims for restitution of some seized property, including that of Holocaust victims. Israel protested.

The Polish ministry decided then that its ambassador, Marek Magierowski, was not to return to his Tel Aviv post after vacation. He has since been appointed to Washington.

Ministry spokesman Lukasz Jasina told The Associated Press that “there are no plans at the moment to propose a new person for the position of ambassador” in Tel Aviv.

Israel’s mission to Poland is only at the charge d’affaires level, following earlier tensions, but the diplomat, Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, was recalled to Israel during the summer spat. She is expected to return to Warsaw.

Bilateral relations, going back to 1948, were re-established in 1990 — following the communist era — and have gone through various phases, recently souring after Poland adopted an administrative law setting a deadline on claims for restitution of seized real estate.

Holocaust survivors and activists take part at a protest at the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv, on February 8, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In July, Poland’s legislature passed the law, effectively cutting off any future restitution to the heirs of property seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust. In response to the legislation, signed into law by Polish President Andrzej Duda, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called it “antisemitic and immoral.”

Poland “turned into an anti-democratic, illiberal country that doesn’t respect the greatest tragedy in human history,” Lapid charged. Poland responded by accusing Israel of “baseless and irresponsible” behavior, and both countries recalled their respective ambassadors.

Polish officials have reportedly indicated that they are interested in returning ambassadors from both nations to their respective posts, but Israel is still holding back from taking that step.

Earlier this month, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry told The Times of Israel that any improvement in ties “is basically up to Poland,” adding: “The crisis is because of the [restitution] law. In order to fix the problem, they should address it.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid gestures as he speaks to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, on September 9, 2021. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool Photo via AP)

On Wednesday, the spokesman said that Poland had yet to address the legislation, and therefore Israel’s ambassador would not be returning to Warsaw in the immediate future.

Warsaw says the law will bolster legal certainty in the property market, but opponents say that it is unjust to those with legitimate claims, including Holocaust survivors and their families.

The legislation places a 10- to 30-year cutoff date on contesting past administrative decisions on restituting property lost during World War II.

Poland is the only country in the EU that has not passed comprehensive national legislation to return, or provide compensation for, private property confiscated by the Nazis or nationalized by the communist regime.

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