Poland summons Israeli envoy over ‘misleading’ remarks on youth Holocaust trips

Warsaw accuses Yacov Livne of refusing to communicate directly over dispute, after he said Poland was preventing education tours

Israeli Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne pays his respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw on July 12, 2022. (Courtesy)
Israeli Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne pays his respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw on July 12, 2022. (Courtesy)

Poland’s Foreign Ministry was set to summon Israel’s ambassador to the country for clarification over remarks he made regarding Holocaust heritage trips for Israeli schoolchildren, which have stopped amid a diplomatic dispute between the countries.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski on Friday accused the Israeli ambassador, Yacov Livne, of “misleading the public as to the reasons why the trips are not taking place” and refusing to communicate directly with the ministry.

Livne on Thursday said at an event marking the 79th anniversary of the uprising at the Sobibor death camp in Poland that it was “impossible” for Israeli youth to visit the memorial site “due to decisions made by the Polish Foreign Ministry.”

He added that Israel does not understand Poland’s position on the issue, and that the matter must be resolved.

The annual educational trips, attended by thousands of young Israelis, were suspended during the pandemic; in June, Israel said they would not resume because Poland’s right-wing government was trying to control the curriculum.

Poland has previously charged that young Israelis were receiving a “negative image” of Poland, because of the armed guards accompanying the youth groups, the visits’ focus on the Holocaust alone, and a lack of contact with Polish youth.

Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jablonski in Warsaw, Poland, September 8, 2020. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

Jablonski said Livne would be summoned Monday. Israel’s Kan public broadcaster said the clarification meeting would be postponed to Wednesday, as the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah falls on Monday.

“I regret that Mr. Ambasador [Yacov Livne] has decided to communicate with [the Polish Foreign Ministry] through the media and public appearances,” Jablonski said on Twitter.

He added that the issue at hand was regarding Israel’s demand to accompany the youth groups with guards.

The security rules should be the same as in other similar countries, ie without armed protection. Poland should be treated according to the same standard,” Jablonski said.

In August, the Polish government said it had offered its alternative plan which would allow the trips to be restarted, but did not receive a response from Israel.

The Education Ministry said the program would not be renewed in the near future.

An Israeli student on the March of the Living Tour in Auschwitz in 2011. Radical academics sometimes compare Israelis to Nazis. (Photo by Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
An Israeli student on the March of the Living Tour in Auschwitz in 2011. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Poland was invaded and occupied by Adolf Hitler’s regime in 1939, and never had a collaborationist government. Members of Poland’s resistance and government-in-exile struggled to warn the world about the mass killing of Jews, and thousands of Poles risked their lives to help Jews.

However, Holocaust researchers have collected ample evidence of Polish villagers who murdered Jews fleeing the Nazis, or Polish blackmailers who preyed on helpless Jews for financial gain. Six million Jews, including nearly all of Poland’s roughly 3 million Jews, were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust, and major Nazi death camps were in Poland.

The dueling narratives have been a source of great tension between Israel and Poland.

Young Israelis traditionally travel to Poland in the summer between 11th and 12th grade to tour former Nazi camps in order to learn about the Holocaust and memorialize those murdered.

The trip has long been considered a milestone in Israeli education and, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, some 40,000 Israeli students participated each year. About 7,000 were registered to go this past summer, according to the Education Ministry.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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