Poland seeks dialogue with Israel amid 'anti-Semitic law' wrangle

Poland seeks dialogue with Israel amid 'anti-Semitic law' wrangle
Warsaw is seeking to speak to Israel about Poland's new law, which critics say censor a transparent discussion on the Holocaust.
3 min read
19 February, 2018
Poland Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at the Security Conference in Munich [AP]

Dialogue with Israel about the Holocaust is necessary and would serve as a warning to prevent such "exceptionally terrifying" crimes from happening again said Poland's prime minister said on Sunday.

Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted his thoughts after a telephone conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The call was prompted by a comment the Polish politician made that equated Polish collaborators in the Holocaust to alleged "Jewish perpetrators."

The remark, given on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference, reignited a weekslong diplomatic dispute over Poland's new law prohibiting some statements about the Holocaust. The law reflects the current Polish government's approach to World War II history, which focuses on Poland's suffering and heroism.

"Dialogue about this most difficult history is necessary, as a warning. We will conduct such dialogue with Israel," Morawiecki tweeted.

Jewish leaders in Israel and elsewhere branded Morawiecki's comment as anti-Semitic. Sunday's telephone conversation was the second one that Morawiecki and Netanyahu had in three weeks in connection to the new law.

Netanyahu's office said he told Morawiecki that "a comparison between the activities of Poles and the activities of Jews during the Holocaust is unfounded."

Animosity in Israel

As tensions between the two nations boil to the surface, someone painted black swastikas, expletives and the word "murderer" on the entrance to Poland's Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israeli police said Sunday. They have launched an investigation.

Morawiecki made the criticised comment as he was responding to an Israeli journalist's question about the new Polish law, which criminalises “falsely” blaming Poles for Holocaust crimes that were committed by Nazi Germany during its occupation of Poland. The journalist said his parents' families were reported to the Nazis by Polish neighbours and asked if he would be charged if he had related the story in Poland.

"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," Morawiecki said in response.

The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, issued a statement demanding an "immediate retraction and apology" from Poland. Lauder said that putting Jews in the same category as the other nationalities was "nothing short of an attempt to falsify history that rings of the very worst forms of anti-Semitism and Holocaust obfuscation."

The spokeswoman for Poland's conservative ruling party, Beata Mazurek, insisted that Morawiecki "told the truth that is difficult for the Israeli side to accept."

"There is no need to apologise for telling the truth," Mazurek said.

Warsaw claims the law is needed to protect Poland from being slandered for crimes committed by Nazi Germans that took place during the 1939-45 occupation and to make the wartime suffering of Poles clear to the world. Poland lost six million citizens during the war, half of them being Jewish.