V4 summit canceled in Jerusalem after Poland quits over Holocaust crisis

Poles furious after acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz quotes former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to the effect that 'Poles imbibe antisemitism from their mothers' milk.'

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February 19, 2019 00:34
3 minute read.
Middle East summit in Warsaw

Middle East summit in Warsaw. (photo credit: KASPER PEMPEL/REUTERS)

 
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An extraordinary summit of four central European countries in Israel meant by Jerusalem to highlight the sub-alliances it is building in Europe – and by those countries as a way to assert their independence from Brussels – was scuttled Monday when Poland decided not to attend because of what it viewed as offensive comments by acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz.

Even though Warsaw will not be sending Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki as was originally scheduled – or Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, which was Plan B after fallout from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s off-hand comments Thursday in Warsaw about the complicity of Poles in Nazi crimes – the prime ministers of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia still arrived Monday evening for Tuesday’s meetings.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet separately for an hour with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, and then host the three of them for lunch at his residence. Without Poland’s participation, however, the meeting will not be called a Visegrad Group summit, since not all four of the European countries that make up the group will be in attendance. A joint statement that was scheduled when Poland was also participating was scrapped from the schedule.

Poland’s decision not to attend the summit followed an interview Katz gave Sunday to i24 and Israel Hayom where he defended Netanyahu’s original statement and tried to downplay the scope of the crisis.

“I am the child of Holocaust survivors, and like every Israeli and Jew I will not compromise over the memory of the Holocaust,” he said. “We will neither forgive nor forget, and there were many Poles who collaborated with the Nazis. How did Yitzhak Shamir put it – they killed his father – ‘the Poles imbibe antisemitism with their mother’s milk.’ No one will tell us how to express our positions and opinions, and how to respect the memory of the fallen. These positions are very clear, and no one among us will compromise on them.”

His words infuriated the Poles, with Poland’s Ambassador Marek Magierowski posting on Twitter, “It is really astonishing that the newly appointed foreign minister of Israel quotes such a shameful and racist remark. Utterly unacceptable.”

Warsaw summoned Israel’s Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari to protest, and during the 30-minute meeting demanded an apology from Jerusalem. The Poles reportedly also noted during the meeting that this was no way to repay Warsaw for hosting last week’s summit aimed at stemming Iranian advances in the Middle East.

When no apology was forthcoming from Israel, Morawiecki announced that Poland would not participate in the summit. He said that Katz’s words were “absolutely unacceptable,” and that they were “unacceptable not only in diplomacy, but for me, they are unacceptable absolutely within the public sphere.”

“Not only can we not accept such racist comments, but with all our strength we want to stress that we will fight for historical truth; for the honor of Poles,” he told journalists.

Morawiecki tweeted that he was in contact with the other Visegrad countries, and that they understood Poland’s position that it cannot accept this type of “rhetoric in diplomacy.”

Netanyahu, who gave a 30-minute speech Monday evening to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization, made no mention of the crisis with Poland or its decision not to attend the summit. This reflected total silence on the matter in Jerusalem, with neither the Foreign Ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office issuing any statement after the Poles pulled out of the planned parley.

The Visegrad Group is considered the most right-wing of the countries making up the 28-state European Union, and is one of the sub-alliances that Netanyahu is developing in the EU to neutralize what he views as anti-Israel bias from Brussels.

The other sub-alliances he has forged have been with Greece and Cyprus, with the Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – and with the Craiova Group of Balkan countries: Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Greece. Serbia, though not presently an EU member state, is a candidate country for admission.

Netanyahu attended the last summit of Visegrad prime ministers in Budapest in 2017.

Israeli officials noted that the meeting of the Visegrad Group in Jerusalem would have sent a message to the EU that Israel has strong allies inside the union that it can turn to for support. And, the officials said, the Visegrad countries were interested in holding the summit in Jerusalem – the first time it was to be held outside of Europe – to assert their foreign policy independence from Brussels, as well as to try to draw closer to Washington through strong public ties with Israel.

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