Israel-Poland relations rocked

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a meeting last week in Warsaw. Photo: AP Photo/Michael Sohn

AN attempt by Bibi to defend Holocaust history has blown up into an all-out crisis in Israel–Poland relations.

Poland pulled out of an international summit in Israel this week, after becoming angry with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and then livid with one of his ministers, who ramped up tensions.

During a Warsaw visit last week, Netanyahu said that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis.”

Poland has passed legislation to limit what can be said about Polish collaboration and Netanyahu’s comments caused offence in Warsaw – especially as it was incorrectly reported at first that he had said that “the Poles” helped the Nazis.

But just as the crisis looked poised to die down, Netanyahu’s new appointment as Acting Foreign Minister, Israel Katz, appeared on television, saying, “We will not forget and we will not forgive,” and that there were many Poles who collaborated with the Nazis.

The Katz comment that made Warsaw see red came at the end of his comments, when he quoted former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Shamir saying that Poles “suckle antisemitism with their mothers’ milk”.

Israelis were surprised that Katz made such comments, especially as their leaders had been working hard to calm tensions with Poland over Holocaust remembrance.

Tuvia Friling, a Ben Gurion University academic, told The AJN that “in Israel, and in Poland as well, the Holocaust unfortunately became a political issue”.

Friling, who was vice-chair of the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, suspects that politicians in Israel have failed to de-escalate the tensions because taking a hard line on Poland could win votes.

“I think that they are trying to show now that they are strong on national honour,” he said.

Poland’s ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski said it is “utterly unacceptable” that “the newly appointed foreign minister of Israel quotes such a shameful and racist remark”. Poland quickly pulled out of the summit of four European countries – the so-called V4 – that Israel was hosting.

The other three countries due in Jerusalem – the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia – still showed up for the summit, but it could not be billed as an official V4 event.

This was a blow to Israel, as securing the event was seen as a major coup, and a way of building more bridges with pro-Israel European countries closer to home, away from the often hostile environment of the European Union.