Polish team heading to Israel to discuss controversial Holocaust law
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Polish team heading to Israel to discuss controversial Holocaust law

Visit comes as Warsaw and Jerusalem try to patch up an ugly diplomatic row over legislation, which outlaws blaming Poland for Nazi Germany WWII crimes

Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, nominating Mateusz Morawiecki to be prime minister at the presidential palace in Warsaw, December 11, 2017. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)
Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, nominating Mateusz Morawiecki to be prime minister at the presidential palace in Warsaw, December 11, 2017. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

An official Polish government delegation is due in Israel on Wednesday amid a bitter diplomatic row over controversial Polish legislation which outlaws blaming Poland as a nation for Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany.

An Israeli foreign ministry statement said on Tuesday that the Polish team would be headed by deputy foreign minister Bartosz Cichocki.

The Israeli side will be led by foreign ministry director general Yuval Rotem, backed by historians, jurists, diplomats and a representative of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.

“The purpose of the dialogue is to preserve the historical truth and prevent harm to the freedom of research and expression,” the statement said.

The teams will try to hammer out an agreed text of the legislation, which has passed Poland’s parliament and been signed by its president but not implemented to date.

The legislation, proposed by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli attends a Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee meeting discussing the rights of persons with disabilities, at the Knesset on October 17, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuli slammed the forthcoming discussions in a tweet.

“It is too little and too late,” he posted. “What agreements will be reached – Auschwitz — Yes, Chelmno – No?! It is forbidden to conduct negotiations about memory and the role of Poles in the horror.”

President Andrzej Duda’s office confirmed he had signed the legislation on February 6, over protests from Israel, the US, and the Jewish world. But Duda also said he would also ask Poland’s constitutional court to evaluate the bill — leaving open the possibility it would be amended.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and his wife Sara, second left, host Polish President Andrzej Duda, second right, and his wife Agata, at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem on January 18, 2017. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

As currently written, the legislation calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki gives a speech during the Munich Security Conference on February 17, 2018, in Munich, southern Germany. (AFP PHOTO / Thomas KIENZLE)

Last Saturday, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki exacerbated the crisis over the law by declaring that, alongside Poles, “Jewish perpetrators” also bore responsibility for the Holocaust.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference, Morawiecki was rejecting criticism of the new law when he was asked by an Israeli journalist if sharing his family’s history of persecution in Poland would be outlawed under the new legislation. “Of course it’s not going to be punishable, [it’s] not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian; not only German perpetrators,” Morawiecki told Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Morawiecki the next day, and told Morawiecki that Israel did not accept the statement. “I told him there’s no basis for this comparison, between the act of Poles and the acts of Jews during the Holocaust,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters following a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Responding to calls for Israel to recall its ambassador in Poland to Israel, the prime minister said last week the government was trying to resolve the issue without taking such a dramatic measure, but “all options are on the table.”

Agencies, Michael Bachner and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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