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Published on 1 February 2018

#Poland - 'Poland Spitting in Israel's Face': Israeli Politicians, Yad Vashem Voice Outrage After Holocaust Bill Passes Vote

Yad Vashem criticizes bill that criminalizes accusing the Polish people of complicity in Nazi crimes.

Published on January 31st in Haaretz

Likud Minister Yisrael Katz demanded on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recall Israel's ambassador to Poland over controversial legislation that was backed by Polish lawmakers, which would criminalize accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi crimes.

The bill, now pending the approval of the polish president, was passed by Senate overnight despite assurances that dialogue on the legislation would be held with Israel before a vote takes place.

"The [draft] law passed by the Poles is serious and constitutes a denial of responsibility and of Poland's role in the Jewish Holocaust," Katz said after Polish lawmakers backed the bill. "In the balance between political and moral considerations, a clear decision must be taken – commemorating the victims of the Holocaust over any other consideration."

Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant tweeted against the bill, saying "The bill that passed tonight by the Senate in Poland is Holocaust denial. The memory of six million is stronger than any law. We will internalize their memory and remember the lesson- that we must defend ourselves by our own strength."

MK Zipi Livni (Zionist Union), a former foreign minister, said the approval of the law is “unacceptable and spitting in the face of Israel twice, both as the nation of the Jewish people and also against the prime minister who announced he had reached agreements with the Poles – if there were such [understandings].

"Israel needs to respond firmly, to immediately and openly put on the agenda the documentation of the crimes by Poles during the Holocaust and to send a clear message: We won't allow them to cause the past to be forgotten.”

The Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem harshly criticized the bill. “It is very disappointing that Poland chose, despite the difficulties with the present wording [of the law] and the harsh protests, to approve the problematic law that could well cause a distortion of the historical truth because of the limitations it places on various expressions concerning the cooperation of parts of the Polish population – directly and indirectly – with the crimes committed on their land during the period of the Holocaust.”

Yad Vashem says it differentiates between the ban on using phrases such as “Polish death camps” – which it also agrees is incorrect –  and “other elements” of the law, which include sections that ban speaking about the part of the “Polish people” in the Nazi crimes or crimes against humanity.

These sections of the law “endanger the free and candid discussion of the part of members of the Polish people in the persecution of Jews during the [Holocaust] period,” said Yad Vashem. 

“Yad Vashem will continue to support research that endeavors to uncover the complex truth about the relationship of the Polish population to the Jews during the period of the Holocaust and will promote activities for education and commemoration in this spirit.”

The Senate voted on the draft bill in the early hours on Thursday and it will now be sent to President Andrzej Duda for a final signature. 

Poland's PAP news agency reported 57 senators voted for the draft bill, with 23 against and two abstentions.

"We have to send a clear signal to the world that we won't allow for Poland to continue being insulted," Patryk Jaki, a deputy justice minister, told reporters in parliament.

The Senate's approval of the bill came despite Polish assurances that a dialogue on the legislation would be held with Israel before a vote on it in the Senate. It had previously been approved by the lower house of parliament.

The legislation, which bans any claims that the Polish people or Polish state were responsible or complicit in the Nazis' crimes, also bans minimizing the responsibility of "the real perpetrators" for these crimes.

Media reports of the lower house's passage of the bill last Friday created a political, public and media storm in Israel. Israeli officials took several steps in response, including a telephone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki. 

The contacts resulted in the two countries agreeing to set up a joint task force to discuss the matter, but before the sides began their work, the Polish Senate approved the bill. 

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