Netanyahu Says He Understands Criticism of Holocaust Declaration, 'Will Give It Expression'

The premier responds for first time to harsh criticism of statement, says he 'respects' historians' comments but that 'goal was achieved' ■ Knesset to discuss motion on renouncing joint statement on Wednesday

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.
\ POOL New/ REUTERS

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded on Sunday morning for the first time to the harsh criticism on the joint statement with Poland on the Polish nation's responsibility for crimes committed against Jews during the Holocaust.

“I have listened to the historians’ comments, I respect them and will give them expression,” said Netanyahu in his opening comments at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem – three days after the  Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem harshly attacked the joint statement, saying it distorted historical facts.

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“The goal of the contacts with the Polish government was to abrogate the criminal clauses in the Polish law that cast a pall of fear over research and free discourse regarding the Holocaust,” said Netanyahu. “This goal was achieved. I thank the team of Joseph Ciechanover and Jacob Nagel for succeeding in removing the criminal clauses from the Polish law.”

Netanyahu added that the process of composing the joint statement after the change of the law “was overseen by a senior historian.”

After the release of the statement “various comments were made after its publication. I have listened intently to the comments of the historians, including about several things that were not included in the declaration. I respect this and I will give expression to it.”

The Knesset will discuss potentially renouncing the document on Wednesday. Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg introduced a motion for the Knesset to formally renounce the document, which is expected to pass if Education Minister Naftali Bennett lends his support to the motion. If the motion is passed, Zandberg will demand the debate be continued in the Knesset plenum and a vote on the draft resolution.

Zandberg called the statement "part of a disgraceful phenomenon in which Netanyahu and Likud have joined forces with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi parties around the world," adding that he "sold his soul to the devil" and "it is unbelievable that the prime minister of Israel is simply willing to sell the history of our people for this nonsense and to harm the millions murdered on Polish soil in this way."

On Thursday, historians from Yad Vashem said in a statement that the Israeli-Polish declaration contained a number of historical errors, and that it paves the way for legal battles against historians and other Holocaust researchers to continue – even if these will now be only civil and not criminal proceedings. Prof. Dina Porat, Yad Vashem’s chief historian who Netanyahu said had “accompanied the process of drafting the statement," did not sign the statement from Yad Vashem. 

Addressing the situation in Syria, Netanyahu said: “This week I will fly to Moscow for an important meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. We meet from time-to-time in order to ensure security coordination and, of course, to discuss regional developments.”

“At the meeting I will reiterate the two basic principles of Israel's policy: First, we will not tolerate the establishment of a military presence by Iran and its proxies anywhere in Syria – not close to the border and not far away from it. Second, we will demand that Syria, and the Syrian military, strictly uphold the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement.” added Netanyahu.

"It is self-evident that I am in regular contact with the American administration. These links with the two great powers are very important to the security of Israel at all times and especially at present," Netanyahu said.