Editorial

Poland's 'Holocaust Law:' The Wound Is Still Open

The latest diplomatic crisis with Warsaw shows that the controversial Israeli-Polish declaration about the law resolved nothing

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poses for pictures with Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki during the Middle East summit in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019.
Agencja Gazeta/ Reuters

Over six months have passed since the storm erupted over the joint declaration by the prime ministers of Israel and Poland over the Polish law permitting civil action against anyone who asserts that the Polish nation bears responsibility for the horrors of the Holocaust. Now it has been proved that the controversial declaration, which some even saw as a shameful letter of surrender and a willingness to distort history for short-term political gains, resolved nothing; the wound is still open.

During his visit to Warsaw Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday convened a briefing for Israeli journalists during which he was asked by Haaretz for his opinion on the fact that the law, while no longer calling for criminal proceedings, still allows for civil action. Netanyahu said in response that Poles did collaborate with the Nazis in the Holocaust and that he wasn’t aware of anyone who was ever sued for saying that.

Netanyahu was quoted in English-language media outlets as having said that the “Polish nation” had collaborated with the Nazis, reigniting the diplomatic crisis between the countries. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Twitter that Poland never cooperated with Germany during World War II and was itself a victim of Nazi occupation. Poland’s Foreign Ministry asked the Prime Minister’s Office for clarifications regarding Netanyahu’s exact remarks at the briefing. Even after these were provided in the form of an English-language statement noting that “Netanyahu spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland” during the briefing, Morawiecki and his country’s Foreign Ministry still demanded that Netanyahu explain himself directly and summoned Israel’s ambassador to Poland for clarifications.

Netanyahu refused to clarify his remarks in his own voice. When asked, during his return flight from Warsaw, to go on camera to explain himself and say whether Poles collaborated in the Holocaust or not, he said that Shir, his spokeswoman, would provide an update. This evasive answer is inappropriate for a subject of such great import in the history of the Jewish nation and so painful to many Israelis whose families were slaughtered on Polish soil — some at the hands of Poles. When the Israeli ambassador is summoned for a reprimand, or worse, over such a highly charged issue, Netanyahu must stop trying to hold the rope at both ends and instead explain his position on the matter, clearly and in his own words.

The promise according to which a joint team of historians would examine the topic in depth was never met. The attempt to overcome a historical issue by diplomatic means is doomed to failure. The memory of the Holocaust is not a subject for laws and committees. The history, of the Jewish as well as the Polish nations, must be left open to free discussion.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic crisis with Poland appears to be behind us. It would be good if it could at least serve as a reminder of the value of alliances between nationalists.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.