Israel to Sanction Bodies Organizing Youth Holocaust Education Trips to Poland

Education Ministry says independent groups harm negotiations with Poland underway after trips were cancelled over security and content disputes. Organizers won't receive ministry security and will be barred from planning official trips for three years

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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

Israel's Education Ministry announced Sunday that it would impose sanctions on organizations sending groups to Poland following the ministry’s decision to suspend such trips.

David Shokef, the ministry official in charge of guiding these groups, wrote that their organization by local authorities, community centers and youth groups go against ministry guidelines and “harm national efforts underway to continue the educational Holocaust commemoration project – in the short term and in the coming years – for all of Israel’s schoolchildren.”

Shokef warned in a letter that the Education Ministry might take “the legal measures at its disposal” against entities taking groups to Poland against the guidelines. The ministry can remove organizations from its list of authorized tour providers, for example, after which the organizations may find themselves barred from sending official groups to Poland for three years.

The ministry said it sent the letter in response to parents wanting to know whether announcements of trips to Poland by local authorities had government backing. In response to a query from Haaretz, the ministry explained that it does not back such initiatives or provide the security and support it offers official delegations. “At the moment of truth, there will be no authorized security official to help manage the event,” Shokef’s letter read. The ministry also said teachers are prohibited from accompanying these groups without authorization.

In August, the Education Ministry announced it was cancelling youth trips to Poland planned for September to November, after it had also cancelled summer trips. According to the ministry, they were cancelled over security disputes. In June, Yair Lapid, then foreign ministry, said the trips had been nixed due to the Polish government’s demand to influence the content presented to participants. According to him, Poland wanted to apply its law against claiming Polish involvement in Nazi acts. “The Poles wanted to dictate what was prohibited to tell Israeli children traveling to Poland. We will not agree to that,” Lapid said.

A few weeks ago, the Education Ministry established a panel to study alternatives to the trips to Poland. As Haaretz reported, the ministry sent a questionnaire to guides of the Polish trips in which they were asked their opinion on the possibility of sending groups to Germany, Holland, France, Belgium Austria, Lithuania, Latvia, Greece, North Macedonia, Hungary and Slovakia. Early last month, Lapid discussed with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz the possibility of holding encounters between German and Israeli teens in Germany. A diplomatic source told Haaretz that both countries would examine the possibility of holding a march parallel to the March of the Living that is held annually in Poland.

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