Aiming to defuse crisis, Polish delegation set for Holocaust law talks in Israel

Israeli-Polish ties nose-dived after the parliament in Warsaw passed legislation last month that made it illegal to say that the Polish nation or state was complicit in the Holocaust.

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February 28, 2018 00:14
2 minute read.
THE PERIMETER fence of Auschwitz II-Birkenau is enveloped in a thick evening fog during the ceremoni

THE PERIMETER fence of Auschwitz II-Birkenau is enveloped in a thick evening fog during the ceremonies marking the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of the camp and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, near Oswiecim, Poland, January 2018. (photo credit: KACPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)

 
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A Polish government delegation was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday for talks about the country’s controversial Holocaust law, with Israel’s Foreign Ministry saying the purpose of the talks is to “preserve the historical truth and prevent harm to freedom of research and expression.”

Israeli-Polish ties nose-dived after the parliament in Warsaw passed legislation last month, signed into law earlier this month by President Andrzej Duda, that made it illegal to say that the Polish nation or state was complicit in the Holocaust.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, decided to set up the teams to discuss the issue after the lower house of the parliament approved the legislation in January, but Israel turned down a request for the teams to meet earlier this month because its impression was that the meeting was supposed to have happened before the law was passed.

However, after Morawiecki said 10 days ago that Jews were also among the perpetrators of the Holocaust, the two prime ministers met and agreed that the teams would meet in an effort to defuse the worsening diplomatic crisis.

The Polish delegation is being led by Deputy Foreign Minister Bartosz Cichocki, and will meet with an Israeli team of historians, jurists and diplomats led by Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem.

Rotem addressed the crisis Tuesday in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, rebuffing members of the Knesset who said that Israel did not respond forcefully enough to the law and should have recalled Ambassador to Poland Anna Aazrai.

“We expressed our opposition to the law clearly throughout the legislative process, but when you conduct a fight you do not start with the big guns – first of all there is a pistol.”

Rotem said it is important that the ambassador be on the ground in Poland, to meet with people and present Israel’s position in public. He said that she was able to extract important statements from key figures, including Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who over the weekend said in an interview that there will not be any punishment of historians, researchers or journalists under the law.


Another member of Israel’s delegation is Yad Vashem chief historian Dina Porat, who took part in the Knesset discussion.
Israel urges Poland to change bill regarding its role in Nazi Holocaust, January 28, 2018 (Reuters)

According to Porat, there is an economic element involved in the Polish legislation and their efforts to equate the suffering of the Poles to that of the Jews.

“First of all, the Jews received compensation from the Germans, and the Poles did not,” she said. “In addition, Jewish groups are requesting today the restitution of Jewish property lost in the Holocaust.”

Porat said that the Jews represented about 10% of Poland’s population before the Holocaust, meaning that they owned or controlled a great deal of private and public property. “From the point of view of the Poles, if we did not harm them, there is nothing to return.”

She said that the Poles did not expect the outcry that the law triggered.

In an apparent conciliatory gesture to the Polish Jewish community, which has weathered a wave of antisemitism since the controversy erupted, Duda visited the Jewish community center in Krakow and expressed his appreciation for what the Jews have contributed to Poland.

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