Netanyahu, Polish PM agree to open dialogue on controversial legislation

The bill would make it illegal to attribute complicity in the Holocaust to the “Polish nation.”

January 29, 2018 04:48
4 minute read.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a document outlining plans for the Auschwitz deat

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a document outlining plans for the Auschwitz death camp as he addresses the 64th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 24, 2009. . (photo credit: REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Sunday evening with his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki and agreed to set up teams to reach an understanding on the controversial Polish legislation that has cast clouds over the relationship between the two countries, the Prime Minister’s Office announced.

The conversation came after Poland’s President Andrzej Duda said he would review the bill making it illegal to attribute complicity in the Holocaust to the “Polish nation,” signaling a possible way out of  the mini diplomatic crisis that developed over the last three days.

A statement issued by the Polish presidency said the law has not been completed – both the president and the Polish Senate must sign-off on it – and that Duda “shall present his final assessment of the currently proceeded provisions after the parliamentary procedure has been completed – and following a detailed analysis of the [bill’s] final form.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Sunday’s cabinet meeting that Israel has zero tolerance for “distorting the truth, rewriting history or denying the Holocaust.” The bill would make the use of terms such as “Polish death camps” to refer to the Nazi concentration camps in Poland punishable by up to three years in prison.

Netanyahu said that Israel’s Ambassador to Poland Anna Azaria made Israel’s firm position known to Morawiecki at a memorial ceremony at Auschwitz marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Saturday night.

During the coming week, he said, she will hold additional meetings about the matter with Morawiecki, as well as with the country’s president and the Polish Senate. She is scheduled to meet on Monday with one of Duda’s top policy advisers.

“Every day, and especially on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember three things,” Netanyahu said. “First, the six million of our brothers and sisters who were annihilated in the Nazi inferno; second, the price humanity paid for failing to stand up on time and with the proper strength against a murderous ideology; and third, the constant need to continue and nurture the strength of the State of Israel vis-à-vis the regimes of modern fanaticism.”

Unlike in the past, Netanyahu said, “We now have our own state, a strong state with the ability to defend ourselves by ourselves. This is to me the most important lesson of the Holocaust.”
Israel urges Poland to change bill regarding its role in Nazi Holocaust, January 28, 2018 (Reuters)

PIOTR KOZLOWSKI, the deputy head of Poland’s Embassy, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Sunday morning and heard similar messages, both from Rodica Radian-Gordon, the ministry’s deputy director-general for Europe, and from Akiva Tor, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions.

Radian-Gordin and Tor said the bill would not help those trying to uncover the historical truth; could harm freedom of research into the Holocaust; and could prevent an honest discussion about the history of World War II. Likewise, they objected to the timing of the bill’s passage in the lower house of parliament on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The two made it clear that Israel expected the Polish government to change the wording of the legislation before its final approval and to conduct a dialogue with Israel on the matter.

Koslowski told reporters afterward: “We are not trying to erase history, but rather trying to uphold the truth.” He said that he heard what he “expected.”

Poland’s Ambassador to Israel Jacek Chodorowicz is not presently in the country.

Following harsh criticism from Israel about the bill, Morawiecki tweeted in English Saturday night: “Auschwitz is the most bitter lesson on how evil ideologies can lead to hell on earth. Jews, Poles, and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis. Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase,” he wrote, referring to the slogan “Work makes freedom” written in German above the entrance to the death camp.

He also tweeted in Polish that Poland and Israel issued a joint statement following a government-to-government meeting in 2016. That statement said that both governments “firmly oppose” attempts at “distorting the history of the Jewish or Polish peoples by denying or diminishing the victimhood of the Jews during the Holocaust, or using the erroneous terms of memory such as ‘Polish death camps.’”

Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, the author of the bill, tweeted late Saturday night in English that the bill was “not against Israel,” in response to the outrage from Jerusalem.

“We criminalize statements such as ‘Polish death camps’ in cases where all death camps on Polish soil were German and even [the] German Ambassador in Poland affirms it. The aim of the bill is to properly point out the perpetrators.”

In addition, he tweeted in Polish, “Important Israeli politicians and the media are attacking us for the bill... In addition they claim that Poles are co-responsible for the Holocaust.” This, he said, is “proof of how much this bill is needed.”

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