Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a joint statement with his Polish counterpart Beata Szydlo (not pictured) after their meeting in Jerusalem November 22, 2016.
(photo credit: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS)
With Israel and Poland hurtling toward a diplomatic rupture that neither side wants, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Sunday with his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki, and agreed that teams set up to discuss the controversial Holocaust law would “hopefully meet soon.”
The phone conversation was triggered by Morawiecki’s comments on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, saying that Jews were also among the perpetrators of the Holocaust.
Asked by Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman if, under the new Polish law that makes it a crime to say that the Polish nation was complicit in the Holocaust, he would be subject to penalties for telling the story of his mother who was a Holocaust survivor in Poland, Morawiecki replied: “Of course it’s not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal, to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators.”
The situation was compounded when the Polish government tweeted a photo afterward of Morawiecki laying a wreath in Munich at the grave of a Polish underground unit called the Holy Cross Mountains Brigade which, toward the end of World War II, collaborated with the Nazis in hoping to prevent the Soviets from taking over the country.
Morawiecki’s comments enraged Israelis from across the political spectrum, and led to renewed calls to recall Israel’s ambassador. The Israel Police said on Sunday that swastikas and anti-Polish obscenities were dabbed onto the entrance to the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu, according to a statement put out by his office, told his Polish counterpart in their telephone conversation on Sunday that his remarks were “unacceptable” and that there was no basis of comparison between the actions of the Poles and the Jews during the Holocaust.
Netanyahu also said that “the goal of the Holocaust was to destroy the Jewish people and that all Jews were under sentence of death.”
Regarding Poland’s efforts against terms such as “Polish death camps,” Netanyahu said that “the distortion regarding Poland could not be corrected by means of another distortion.”
The two agreed that the “countries would continue their dialogue” on the controversial legislation.
The teams established earlier this month to discuss the legislation have yet to meet. The law itself, which has been signed by the Polish president, is still awaiting judicial review by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal.
Netanyahu, during his speech to the Munich conference, alluded to the controversy, saying, “We will never forget and we will never allow the rewriting of the historical truth.”
Morawiecki, after his conversation with Netanyahu, tweeted the following: “The Holocaust, the genocide of the Jews committed by the German Nazis, was a horrific crime. Even during those dark hours of war and murder, there were individuals of all nations who bravely carried out gestures of the greatest mercy.”
The Polish prime minister continued: “Sadly, this period also exposed dark parts of human nature, which for some meant collaboration with German Nazis.
Dialogue on these difficult chapters of our history is essential – a dialogue we hope to continue with Israel. Today, I spoke about this with Prime Minister [Netanyahu].”
Late on Saturday night, following the furious response in Israel to the Polish prime minister’s comments, Morawiecki’s government issued a clarification saying the comments “were by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German perpetrated genocide.”
The statement added that Morawiecki has “repeatedly and categorically” opposed Holocaust denial and antisemitism.
“The prime minister has made his position clear: Poland wants to continue dialogue with Israel in the spirit of truth and mutual trust,” the statement said. Morawiecki’s comments, it said, should be seen as a “sincere call for open discussion of crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust, regardless of the nationality of those involved in each crime.”