In the latest escalation of the diplomatic scandal between Poland and Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out on Saturday out “outrageous” remarks by his new Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki (in office since December), who said the Holocaust had involved “Jewish perpetrators” as well as Polish, The Local reported.
The Israeli leader condemned “an inability to understand history and a lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people” adding that “the Polish Prime Minister’s remarks here in Munich are outrageous,” and that he intended to speak to Morawiecki “forthwith” about the matter.
Morawiecki’s claim about the Holocaust’s perpetrators came amid an unprecedented diplomatic row with Israel sparked by a controversial law passed by Poland’s senate this month. The law – which was approved overwhelmingly by the Polish Senate, with 57 voting in favour, 23 against and two abstaining – sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone ascribing “responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda defended the bill earlier in February claiming that it was much needed to defend the reputation of the country.
“Taking the need to protect Poland’s and the Polish people’s good name into account … I made the decision to sign this amendment to the bill into law”, Duda was quoted saying by Russia’s Tass news agency.
Appearing at the Munich Security Conference, Morawiecki was questioned by a journalist who told of his mother’s narrow escape from the Gestapo in Poland after learning that neighbours were planning to denounce them. The journalist, Ronen Bergman, asked if by recounting this, “I am a criminal in your country?” — garnering a round of applause from the audience.
Prompting a firestorm of outrcry, Morawiecki responded: “It’s extremely important to first understand that, 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 Ukraine and German perpetrators.”
— Mishal Husain (@MishalHusainBBC) February 17, 2018
The prime minister also reiterated that the point of the law was to defend Poland’s honor by making clear that people knew “there were no Polish death camps… There were German Nazi death camps.”
“But we cannot agree with mixing perpetrators with victims, because it would be first of all an offence to all the Jews and all the Poles who suffered greatly during the Second World War.”
Several conference attendees later took to Twitter to assail the remarks. Bergman himself tweeted that the Polish premier’s answer was “unbelievable”.
his reaction was unbelievable:” we do not deny the fact that there were Polish perpetrators as well as there were Jewish perpetrators or Ukrainian perpetrators….” https://t.co/q1OBnBkQoF
— Ronen Bergman (@ronenbergman) February 17, 2018
Francois Heisbourg, a London-based diplomacy expert, called the reference to “‘Polish perpetrators like there were Jewish perpetrators'” a “shameful response”. Noa Landau, a correspondent for the Israeli daily Haaretz, denounced an “outrageous scene”, noting the audience’s silence after Morawiecki’s comments.
Outrageous scene at the @MunSecConf. Polish PM answers @ronenbergman’s question on the law denying polish complicity in the holocaust by comparing ‘Polish perpetrators’ in the holocaust to ‘Jewish perpetrators’. The audience, Europe’s elite, stays politely quiet #MSC2018 #MSC18 pic.twitter.com/5Q0a6bqYqS
— Noa Landau (@noa_landau) February 17, 2018
The Israelis have been furious about the Polish legislation, which Mr Netanyahu has described as an attempt to rewrite history and deny the Holocaust. Deputies from across Israel’s often fractious political spectrum have united to denounce it.
Following the passage of the law in the Senate, Israel’s Foreign Ministry asked to postpone the visit of a senior Polish official. Now, according to BBC, Israeli MPs are backing a bill that would expand Israel’s existing Holocaust denial laws to include a five-year jail sentence for anyone denying or minimising the role of Nazi collaborators, including Poles, in crimes committed in the Holocaust. The amended law would also give legal aid to any Holocaust survivor telling their story who is prosecuted in a foreign country.
On Sunday, media outrage continued after Morawiecki stood by his previous statements.
Asked for her thoughts on whether the new Polish law violates the right to free speech, German Chancellor Angela remarked that “Germans are responsible for what happened during the Holocaust, the Shoah, under National Socialism”.