Netanyahu on Polish Holocaust Law: Saying Poles Collaborated With Nazis Never Got Anyone Sued

Netanyahu addresses controversial legislation that criminalizes mention of Polish complicity in Nazi war crimes ■ Poland looking into premier's comment following Haaretz report

Polish President Andrzej Duda and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk after a group photo at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, February 13, 2019.
AP/Czarek Sokolowski

WARSAW - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday addressed controversial Polish legislation the caused a rift between Israel and Poland, blasting Poles for collaborating with Nazis during World War II.

"The Poles collaborated with the Nazis and I don't know anyone who was ever sued for such a statement," Netanyahu said at the Warsaw conference on the Middle East, which he is attending.

He was referring to the controversial Holocaust law, which criminalizes anybody accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi crimes. 

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Netanyahu made the remark in response to a query by Haaretz regarding the fact that civil suits can still be filed in Poland against people uttering remarks that accuse the Polish nation of involvement in war crimes.

Poland is examining the premier's comment following Haaretz's report. 

The law passed in the Polish parliament in late 2017, but six months later Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki backtracked on it and asked the parliament to reopen discussions on the law following pressure from Israel and the United States

Morawiecki wants the law amended, so as not to impose criminal responsibility and a prison sentence on violators.

In its current form, the law makes it a criminal offense to accuse the Polish people or Polish state of being responsible or a partner to the Nazi crimes and outlaws the use of the term "Polish death camps" in reference to death camps that Nazi Germany established in Poland during World War II. It also makes it an offense to blatantly minimize "the responsibility of the real perpetrators of the crimes."

The Polish parliament's approval of the law created a crisis in Poland's relations with Israel and the Jewish community worldwide. Opponents of the legislation, including Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance authority and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, have claimed that the law promotes Holocaust denial and limits debate on the part that some Poles played in the Holocaust.

In a joint declaration, Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Matthias Morawiecki said in June, following Poland's decision to amend the law: 

"We reject the actions aimed at blaming Poland or the Polish nation as a whole for the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators of different nations," read a joint statement by Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. "Unfortunately, the sad fact is that some people – regardless of their origin, religion or worldview – revealed their darkest side at that time." 

The statement further said: "Both governments vehemently condemn all forms of anti-Semitism and express their commitment to oppose any of its manifestations. Both governments also express their rejection of anti-Polonism and other negative national stereotypes."