Holocaust memorial slams Israel-Poland agreement

The dispute over the Holocaust law sparked a wave of anti-Semitic comments in Poland, even by state-run media commentators.
Friday 06/07/2018
Far-right group members wear masks of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they stage a demo criticizing Poland for backtracking on parts of a Holocaust speech law, in Warsaw, on July 2. (AP)
Far-right group members wear masks of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they stage a demo criticizing Poland for backtracking on parts of a Holocaust speech law, in Warsaw, on July 2. (AP)

LONDON — Israel’s official Holocaust memorial is slamming the joint Israeli-Polish compromise over Poland’s disputed Holocaust speech law, saying it contains “grave errors and deceptions.”

Poland amended the law last week after it sparked outrage in Israel by imposing jail terms of up to three years against anyone found guilty of ascribing Nazi crimes to the Polish nation or state.

In consultation with Israel, Poland last week scrapped the threat of prison for attributing Nazi crimes to the Polish nation but kept the possibility of fines in place.

Yad Vashem, Israel’s renowned Holocaust memorial and research centre in Jerusalem, said its historians have thoroughly reviewed the declaration that ended an Israeli-Polish spat on the matter and found that the “essence of the statute remains unchanged” and includes “the possibility of real harm to researchers … and the historical memory of the Holocaust.”

The dispute sparked a wave of anti-Semitic comments in Poland — even by state-run media commentators.

In a rare rebuke of the Israeli government, Yad Vashem said the statement contained “highly problematic wording.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki issued a joint statement on the issue, which was later published in full in newspapers both in Israel and abroad.

It pointed to the joint statement’s assertion that “numerous Poles” had risked their lives to rescue Jews.

“Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread phenomena,” Yad Vashem said.

It added that the amended law remained problematic, warning of “the possibility of real harm to researchers, unimpeded research and the historical memory of the Holocaust.”

Israel had expressed deep concern that the original legislation could allow Holocaust survivors to be prosecuted for their testimony should it concern the involvement of individual Poles for allegedly killing or betraying Jews to the Germans.

There were also fears the law would prevent open academic research on the Holocaust in Poland.

The main aim of the legislation was to prevent Nazi German death camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, being described as Polish.

Poland, occupied by Nazi Germany for much of World War II, lost six million of its citizens including three million Jews.

Yad Vashem added that while removing criminal sanctions from the law was important, the amendment had not specifically made exceptions for research and education.

Israel’s negotiating team said in a statement Yad Vashem’s chief historian, Dina Porat, “accompanied the process from its inception.”

“Historical statements that appear in the declaration were approved by her,” it said.

“The joint declaration signed by the Polish government includes an explicit reference to the fact that the ability to carry out research freely is preserved and that no law prevents or will prevent that in the future.”

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)