Rivlin welcomes new Polish ambassador with unsubtle rebuke over Holocaust law

Rivlin welcomes new Polish ambassador with unsubtle rebuke over Holocaust law

‘I’m sure we can open a new chapter in our relationship,’ envoy says in Hebrew, after president says it’s better to leave history to historians

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

Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski, left, with President Rivlin in Jerusalem, August 2, 2018 (Twitter)
Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski, left, with President Rivlin in Jerusalem, August 2, 2018 (Twitter)

In an unsubtle censure of Poland’s controversial Holocaust law, President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday told the country’s incoming envoy that Israelis, as opposed to Poles, prefer to let historians determine historical facts.

“The main difference between us is that we leave the facts of history to the historians,” Rivlin told a stone-faced Ambassador Marek Magierowski. “We are not letting any politician interfere or be involved with or creating the facts of history.”

Receiving Magierowski’s letter of credence in his Jerusalem residence, Rivlin started off by mentioning that Jews and Poles had nearly a thousand years of common history.

“It’s a history that cannot be forgotten. And I know that we have differences of opinion from time to time, and we prefer to deal with them. It’s very important from time to time also to discuss differences of opinion rather than abstain from cooperation or discussion,” he said.

Without mentioning the controversial now-amended law, which had stipulated fines for people accusing the Polish people of complicity in Nazi Holocaust crimes, Rivlin indicated that Polish politicians trying to clear their country’s wartime record formed the main point of disagreement between Jerusalem and Warsaw.

However, Rivlin also said that this issue should not be allowed to negatively impact the future of bilateral ties.

“Because as much as we have history, we have the future,” he said, speaking in English. “And the future for our two countries is very important. It’s very important to the free world, to the Jewish people.”

Israel appreciates Poland’s “willingness to discuss matters that sometimes cause difficulties,” Rivlin stressed.

After briefly addressing bilateral cooperation in other fields, which he said was strong, he returned to the Holocaust controversy.

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, left, and Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, center, walk in the March of the Living, a yearly Holocaust remembrance march between the former death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, in Oswiecim, Poland, on Thursday, April 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

“I would like to repeat that here in Israel we don’t let politicians get involved in historical events. Because this is not the place to find historical truth,” he said.

Rivlin went on to say that he understands that in any democracy, leaders have “political needs” in order to build coalitions and be able to rule. The cryptic comment was likely referring to accusations saying the Polish government’s populist and nationalist policies led it to pass the Holocaust law.

I consider Poland and Israel two members of the same family

In his remarks, Magierowski, a former spokesperson to Polish President Andrzej Duda, who served as his country’s deputy foreign minister until last year, largely ignored the Holocaust controversy.

“Today is a very important and very special day for me, for my wife and my team, for Poland,” he said in nearly flawless Hebrew. “I am sure that we can open a new chapter in our relationship.”

Continuing in English, he said ties between Warsaw and Jerusalem are “absolutely excellent, in spite of all those differences, which always exist, in every family. And I consider Poland and Israel two members of the same family.”

Magierowski said he often hears Hebrew on the streets of Warsaw, which showed that young Israelis are getting to know “not only the dark chapters of our common history,” but also contemporary Poland with its “economic miracle” and multifaceted cultural scene, he said.

“We cannot escape history, and we are talking about history all the time, but we can also focus on other areas where we do have economic interests, the economic field but also in geopolitics,” he said.

Magierowski, who started his career as a journalist, later also issued a tweet in Hebrew with photos from the ceremony:

In late June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, signed an agreement that officially ended the spat over the controversial law.

Warsaw agreed to annul criminal sanctions for individuals who accuse the “Polish nation or the Republic of Poland” of having been complicit or co-complicit in the Holocaust, though they can still be find fined.

Jerusalem agreed to issue a joint Israeli-Polish declaration that critics said adopted Warsaw’s skewed narrative of the Holocaust.

The statement hailed “heroic acts of numerous Poles… who risked their lives to save Jewish people” but only condemned “every single case of cruelty against Jews perpetrated by Poles during…World War II.” It also appeared to equate anti-Semitism with “anti-Polonism,” critics lamented.

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center harshly criticized the joint declaration, saying it would stifle free research on the subject. Furthermore, the text “contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field,” the institution lamented.

On July 8, Netanyahu, who initially contended his deal with Poland would protect the “historic truth about the Holocaust,” said he “respects” the criticism and “will give expression to it.”

He has since avoided publicly addressing the subject.

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