Israel Refuses to Reveal Who Drafted Controversial Joint Holocaust Statement With Poland

A year after statement sparked controversy, Foreign Ministry says disclosing such information could harm Israel's relations with Poland and reignite old controversies

FILE Photo: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a meeting in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019.
Michael Sohn/AP

Israel is refusing to reveal the names of the experts who took part in drafting the controversial joint statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki a year ago, following Poland’s decision to amend a law that criminalized anybody accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi war crimes.

The statement, critics said at the time, accepted Poland's narrative of victimhood during the Holocaust and obscures historical truth. 

In response to a petition filed by human rights lawyer Eitay Mack to the Jerusalem District Court last week, asking to disclose information on who wrote the statement, the state told the court that divulging such details would harm Israel’s relations with Poland.

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The state added that the reason for not revealing the experts’ identities stems from the fear that “putting the issue back on the public agenda by providing that information might reignite old controversies and even exacerbate them.”

The Foreign Ministry went on to say that revealing the information regarding cooperation with private actors could have a “cooling effect on outside advisers, who would no longer want to work with us. Thus, it would most likely hinder our getting assistance from academic sources in the future.”

The state also stressed that these experts did not wish to have their names revealed, since they were worried about being harmed in the academic world if it became known that they were partners to the formulation of a statement that other historians find controversial.

The court decided on a further hearing in December.

In July 2018, Netanyahu announced that the special committee he had appointed reached understandings with the Polish government about amending the Polish law to permit civil action against anyone who asserts that the Polish nation bears responsibility for the horrors of the Holocaust instead of subjecting them to criminal proceedings.

The statement was released in Israel and Poland simultaneously, saying “the Holocaust was obviously an unprecedented crime perpetrated by Nazi Germany against the Jewish people, including Poles of Jewish descent.

“We’ve always agreed that the term ‘Polish concentration/extermination camps’ is completely erroneous, reducing the responsibility of Germans for building these camps…we remember and respect the acts of courage carried out by many Poles, especially those included among the Righteous Among the Nations, who risked their lives in order to save Jews,” the statement read.

“We reject attempts to blame Poland or the Polish nation for the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators in many nations…the [Israeli and Polish] governments strongly condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms and express their commitment to combat all manner of its expression. The governments also express their opposition to anti-Polish sentiments and to any negative national stereotyping, calling for the re-establishment of a cultured and respectful dialogue, as part of the public discourse,” the statement said.

Netanyahu then stated that Israel had been in contact with Poland about the law and that the two countries reached an agreement on an amended version of the law. “I am pleased that they have decided to completely cancel the clauses that has caused uproar and dissatisfaction in Israel and the international community,” Netanyahu said.

“Relations with Poland are important to us and are based on trust. We stood for the truth and fulfilled our duty to ensure the historical truth about the Holocaust,” he added.

The law triggered a crisis in Poland’s relations with Israel as well as in its relations with diaspora Jews, many of whom argued that the legislation limits the historic discussion over Poland’s role in the Holocaust. Following the public outcry, the law was altered.

The head historian at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center, Professor Dina Porat, was the person who had ostensibly ratified the phrasing, alongside other Holocaust experts, the Prime Minister’s Office stated.

However Yad Vashem refuted this claim, saying that if Porat had been involved, it was not on behalf of the museum.

Yad Vashem said that the statement contains “historical distortions,” warning that the new Polish law, even in its revised version, “puts at risk researchers, students, teachers, journalists, politicians, tour guides and workers at commemoration sites”, who may become the targets of civil lawsuits.

Nevertheless, the Polish government said that Netanyahu’s signature on the joint statement is binding, and not Yad Vashem’s statement.

The Foreign Ministry since has adamantly refused to name the committee members who formulated that declaration, and why.