Israel's Lapid: Holocaust School Trips Nixed Over Poland's Demand to Sway Narrative

The foreign minister nixes Israeli tours after Poland says groups must not claim Polish involvement in Holocaust, in latest diplomatic spat between two countries

Young Jews take part in the 'March of the Living' demonstration, in the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, in 2006.
Young Jews take part in the 'March of the Living' demonstration, in the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, in 2006.Credit: AFP

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Wednesday that organized Holocaust-education missions for Israeli teenagers to Poland this summer had been canceled after the Polish government sought to interfere with the content of the tours.

Warsaw is saying that the terms of Poland’s “Holocaust Law,” under which those who assert that there was any Polish involvement in the Holocaust face prison time, must apply to the content of the Israeli tours in the country.

On Tuesday, Israel's Education Ministry said it was cancelling the youth missions to Poland due to a dispute with Poland's government related to the carrying of weapons by Israeli security personnel on Polish soil.

In reference to the "Holocaust Law," Lapid said: “One of the effects of the law is the fact that the Poles wanted to deal with the contents of the missions. They wanted to tell us what is allowed and what isn’t allowed to Israeli children traveling to Poland.

“We can’t agree to that. It won’t happen. Indeed, it puts this summer’s travel into jeopardy. Originally, it was a decision made by the education minister, but its implications are also clear at the diplomatic level.”

Lapid noted that recently “there had been, in fact, a certain improvement in relations with Poland, because we cooperated in regard to activities on the border with Ukraine. They helped us get Israelis and Jews out of Ukraine when the war began, and we appreciate that.”

The current dispute around the missions to Poland is the latest in a series between the two countries over a variety of Holocaust-related issues.

In 2018, Poland passed a law that in Israel came to be known as the “Shoah Law,” which called for prison time for anyone asserting that Poles were in any way involved in the Holocaust. Facing sharp criticism for the law, the prime ministers of the two countries at the time—Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki—made a controversial joint statement in which Israel adopted part of the Polish narrative that stressed the role of Poles in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust and played down their role in hunting down and murdering them.

That statement also met with criticism, among others by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center. Lapid condemned it and last year announced that it “was not in force.”

A year ago, Poland’s parliament approved a law that placed limits on the ability of Jews to seek restoration of property they owned before the outbreak of World War II that was seized by the Nazis and later nationalized under communist rule. The law sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel.

The two laws harmed bilateral relations, encouraged antisemitic sloganeering by Poles on the far right and led to right-wing Polish politicians to adopt a more hostile tone toward Israel. Demands to interfere with the content of Israeli tours marks a further deterioration in ties between the two countries.

Polish officials have called to involve their authorities in the content of Israel's Holocaust tours for several years, as part of Poland's efforts to correct what it saw as distortions of history that portrayed the country in a negative light – as in part responsible for the Holocaust.

In addition, they said the world – in particular Israel – had failed to recognize the degree of Polish suffering during World War II or the efforts by individual Poles and Polish organizations to rescue Jews.

Israel saw these Polish claims as an attempt to rewrite history and distort the memory of the Holocaust, with the aim of easing the conscience of Poles and removing the stains of their past.

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