Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations on Monday implicitly criticized Poland’s proposed law that would make it a criminal offense to link the Polish nation to crimes committed during the Holocaust.
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“Over the past few days we have witnessed dangerous attempts to distort the truth and rewrite history,” Danny Danon said. “Here in the UN we have an even greater responsibility to remember those who perished, and to preserve and protect the truth.”
He was speaking at a UN event in New York to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, hosted by the Israeli mission.
The event was attended by ambassadors and Holocaust survivors, and also marked the 30th anniversary of the International March of the Living. That march takes place annually on Holocaust Remembrance Day and covers the 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) between the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. An educational program also brings individuals from around the world to Poland and Israel to study the history of the Holocaust.
Monday’s UN event featured performances by Israeli artists, including singer Amir Benayoun. His participation was initially cast in doubt after the United States refused to grant him a visa, saying he had failed to convince them of his intention to return to Israel after the event.
Benayoun aroused controversy in 2014 with his anti-Arab song “Ahmed Loves Israel” and the following year with a song about a pet bird called Obama, to which he wished a swift death. However, the visa problem was resolved last week, allowing him to perform the song “The Last Survivor” with fellow singers David D’or and Miri Mesika.
The UN will hold a larger event marking Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday evening.
Danon’s comments were connected to events in Poland in recent days. The lower house in Poland’s parliament approved a bill on Friday that would make it a criminal offense – punishable by a fine or up to three years in prison – to express any Polish participation in crimes committed during the Holocaust. The bill now goes on to a second vote in the upper house and then needs the assent of Poland’s president before coming law.
The proposed law caused a furor in Israel over the weekend. Yair Lapid, the head of Israel’s centrist Yesh Atid party, got into a Twitter feud with the Polish Embassy in Israel on Saturday. “I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust. It was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier,” Lapid tweeted.
The law would also forbid use of the term “Polish death camp” to describe the camps where Jews and others were murdered in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II.
Poland doubled down on its position on Monday, saying the proposed law is legitimate and necessary in order to protect Poland’s reputation in the face of lies about the country’s past.
However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the proposed law “baseless” and spoke with his Polish counterpart about it on Monday. Polish TV channel TVN reported that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told Netanyahu, “Israeli law also has similar solutions to those who deny or underestimate the severity of the crimes committed against the Jewish nation.”
Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Anna Azari, also met with Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Krzysztof Szczerski, on Monday. She emphasized Israeli concern about the violations of freedom of expression and restrictions on the discourse surrounding Holocaust victims in Poland.
Szczerski expressed Poland’s interest in preventing the Polish people and state from being accused of war crimes committed by the Nazis.
Azari told the Polish media, “I am sad the debate is a victory for the Nazi ideology, which wanted to bring about war between different nations.” However, she added, “I am optimistic, and I believe Poles and Jews will find the right way to deal with the truth.”