Polish President Andrzej Duda.
(photo credit: AGENCJA GAZETA/DAWID ZUCHOWICZ VIA REUTERS)
Reports of Poland freezing its controversial Holocaust law were, apparently, greatly exaggerated.
If not exaggerated then at least badly overstated.
On Saturday night, Channel 2 reported that Poland had decided to freeze the new law that made it a crime to say the Polish state or nation was complicit in the Holocaust, a law that has sent Polish-Israel ties into a tailspin.
The report quoted Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem as saying that Israeli pressure led to the Polish about-face.
The Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, asked about the report, curbed the enthusiasm a bit, saying that, “Due to Israeli pressure, the Polish justice minister stated that the law would not be acted upon before the decision of the Polish court on the subject. A Polish team is expected to arrive in Israel, with the intention of reaching an Israeli-Polish agreement.”
Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, who has been especially loud in his criticism of the Poles, celebrated the reported “freeze” of the law, tweeting the following on Saturday night: “This is the first victory of the protests that we have led. Poland’s government freezes the Holocaust denial law. This is additional proof that on issues dealing with fundamental values, there is a need to wage the struggle without hesitation and fear about what they will say. The memory of the Holocaust is not negotiable.”
Israel urges Poland to change bill regarding its role in Nazi Holocaust, January 28, 2018 (Reuters)
But all the celebration was apparently premature, as Jan Kanthak, a spokesman for the Polish Justice Ministry, posted a tweet referring to “freezing” the law, saying that “every act passed in Poland by the parliament and signed by the president becomes a law and goes into effect according to the date specified in it.”
This law went into effect on February 20, 14 days after it was signed by Polish President Andrzej Duda.
The premature jubilation may have been caused by the misinterpretation of an interview that Poland’s Justice Minister and Prosecutor- General Zbigniew Ziobro gave to the Polish media over the weekend.
He said that before the public prosecutor’s office presses charges against anyone based on the law, the Constitutional Tribunal will surely take a position on it.
“Its ruling will be a guide to public prosecutors on how to apply the new law as the tribunal’s judgments are universally applicable in Poland,” he said.
While some in Jerusalem apparently misread that as a decision to freeze the law, in actuality it was just a sign that the prosecutor’s office will wait to see how the law is interpreted by the Constitutional Tribunal before applying it.
This is not the first time since this saga broke into the headlines last month that the Poles said something and Israel heard something else.
Soon after the legislation passed the lower house of the parliament in January – the first step to becoming law – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki and then issued a statement saying that the two countries agreed to reach an understanding on the legislation.
The impression Jerusalem put out was that the legislation would not move forward until these teams met.
A couple days later, before the Polish team was even established, the Polish Senate signed the bill, and then passed it on to the president who signed it as well.
The Polish Constitutional Tribunal is still scheduled to review the law, and a Polish delegation is expected to meet with an Israeli delegation on the matter. But no dates for either have yet been set.