Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and opposition head MK Yair Lapid called each other “liars” and traded accusations over who had done more to harm Israeli-Polish ties in the past.
“There are probably those who are saddened that we resolved the political crisis with Poland that began during the Lapid era,” Cohen charged on Twitter on Monday, in an argument that continued on Tuesday.
His statement referenced the Israeli high school trips to Poland, which were suspended in 2022 when Lapid was Prime Minister but which Cohen announced last month would be resumed.
Cohen, however, skipped over the roots of the Israeli-Polish crisis which started in 2018 during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last tenure in office. Lapid was not in the government at the time.
Cohen traveled to Warsaw last month and secured an agreement that Poland would once again post an Ambassador to Israel after its last one was recalled in 2021 when Poland limited the ability of Jews to recover property seized by Germans during the Nazi invasion of their country in World War II.
No date, however, has been set for the Polish ambassador's return to Israel.
Cohen: Lapid's decisions prolonged the issues
Cohen charged that part of the problem related to Lapid’s decision to unilaterally return Israel’s Ambassador to Poland last year without securing a pledge that Warsaw would similarly send its envoy to Israel.
“You’re lying,” Cohen accused Lapid on Twitter on Tuesday. "You unilaterally returned the Israeli ambassador to Poland, which is a magnificent concession and showed an abject lack of understanding in international relations,” said Cohen as he continued to level charges against Lapid.
ועכשיו לעובדות:1. אתה משקר. עד היום אין לפולין שגריר בישראל. אתה החזרת את השגריר הישראלי לפולין באופן חד צדדי, שזו התקפלות מפוארת וחוסר הבנה משווע ביחסים בינלאומיים.2. אתה גרמת לזה שפולין, שתמכה בנו במוסדות הבינלאומיים, הפכה למתנגדת.תן לנו לתקן את הנזקים שעשית. https://t.co/cQzFe3G1WC— אלי כהן | Eli Cohen (@elicoh1) April 11, 2023
“You caused Poland, which supported us in the international institutions, to become an opponent,” Cohen said.
Lapid retorted that obviously he had returned Israel’s Ambassador to Poland with Warsaw’s permission and thus it was not unilateral.
As to the second point, Lapid said, he had “confronted” Poland about its Holocaust denial laws. A “proud country with a national backbone” doesn’t shirk from its responsibility to the deal, just so it can secure support in international institutions, Lapid said.
He accused the current government of “flat out lying,” noting that he had not caved in any way to Holocaust denial.
Their public spat began after Cohen went online Monday to disclaim a Haaretz story contending that the trips would include an itinerary with sites that promoted an anti-historical narrative with regard to Polish actions relating to the Holocaust.
An index of sites important to Poland was included in Poland’s agreement with Israel over the restoration of the high school trips.
Yad Vashem issues statement on the matter
Yad Vashem — the World Holocaust Remembrance Center issued a statement on the matter explaining that the group trips must maintain “complete historical accuracy, including the role of Poles in the persecution, handing in, and murder of Jews during the Holocaust, as well as in acts of rescue.”
It noted that Poland’s list of visitor sites in the agreement’s annex was problematic and that they “should not be visited in an educational context.”
Yad Vashem noted, however, that the agreement “does not mandate visiting those sites” and that “Poland does not appear to dictate or limit” the content of the high school trips.
“Yad Vashem will not be involved in group visits to any site suspected of distorting the events of the Holocaust or presenting a historically inaccurate narrative. We believe that all educational visits from Israel to Poland in the future will be conducted accordingly,” it added.
Cohen called said that the high school trips to Poland “will be resumed similar to the way they were in the past, and no one will be required to visit sites commemorating the killers of Jews.”
The Polish Embassy said its annex list of sites was just an advisory one.
But Lapid was not swayed. “The children of Israel will not be part of rewriting the terrible history of the murder of Polish Jews. … Is this a right-wing government? This is a complete insult to our national pride and the memory of the fallen,” he stated.