In Protest Over Polish Restitution Law, Lapid Recalls Israel’s Top Diplomat to Warsaw

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Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a government meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a government meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid recalled on Saturday Israel's charge d'affaires in Poland, after Polish President Andrzej Duda approved a controversial law that will restrict the possibility of restitution claims for property stolen from Jews by the Nazis during World War II and nationalized by the postwar communist regime.

Lapid said that Poland passed "an antisemitic and immoral law," and that he has instructed Israel's Charge d'affaires in Warsaw, Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, to return immediately to Israel for consultations for "an indefinite period of time." He added that Israel's new ambassador to Poland, who has yet to depart, will not be going.

He added that "the Foreign Ministry recommends that the Polish ambassador to Israel prolong his vacation in his country," saying that the Polish ambassador to Israel should use his time in Poland to "explain to the Polish people what the Holocaust means to the citizens of Israel and how we will not tolerate contempt for the memory of the victims and the memory of the Holocaust."

The Polish Foreign Ministry later said: "Israel's move is severely damaging our relations. We will take appropriate diplomatic and political action, taking into account the principle of reciprocity."

Israel and the United States, Lapid said, are holding talks on possible responses to Poland's move.

Lapid blasts the legislation

"Poland has tonight become an anti-democratic, illiberal country that does not honor the greatest tragedy in human history," Lapid said, declaring that "Israel and the Jewish people will not remain silent."

In response to the Israeli backlash, Polish presidential aide Jakub Kumoch said: "Poland will not agree to instrumentalize the Holocaust, we are one of the few countries where Jews are safe."

Polish President Andrzej Duda. Credit: Valentina Petrova / AP

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called the approval of the law "a shameful decision that shows a disgraceful contempt for the memory of the Holocaust," and said that Israel cannot take the move lightly.

"Israel gravely views the approval of the law that prevents Jews from being compensated for property robbed from them during the Holocaust, and is distressed by the fact that Poland is choosing to continue to harm those who have lost everything they had," he tweeted.  

Israel and the United States have expressed stark opposition to the law, which has led to tensions between Warsaw and Jerusalem. Duda's final approval makes the legislation official, but it will take 30 days for the law to go into effect. 

Responding to a query from Haaretz, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said that "We are aware of the recent legislation being signed into law in Poland."

The terse comment comes after weeks of intensive public and private diplomacy from the United States regarding the matter. Israel had directly appealed to the Biden administration to support its efforts against the legislation.

There has also been broad, bipartisan opposition to the restitution law in Congress, with lawmakers from both the Senate and the House of Representatives directly appealing to Duda and Elzbieta Witek, the speaker of the Sejm, the lower house of Poland's parliament.

Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appealed to Duda to refer the bill to Poland's constitutional tribunal rather than sign the bill into law. He also criticized a separate piece of draft legislation targeting Poland's most watched independent news station that happens to also be one of the largest U.S. investments in Poland.

Blinken said that America is "deeply concerned" about the Polish parliament's move "severely restricting the process for Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, to obtain restitution for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland’s communist era."  

The Polish president explained that he signed the bill "after thorough analysis" and that he is of the opinion that the law rectifies a current injustice, that it will "put an end to an era of legal chaos" and "the uncertainty of millions of Poles and the disrespect of the basic rights of the country's citizens."

He referred to one of the stated goals of the law – to fight the corruption and involvement of unreliable figures, some of them criminal – who have taken advantage of Poland's bureaucracy in order to take control over property that is not theirs, and to evict downtrodden tenants throughout the country. 

The law passed a parliamentary vote on Wednesday, drawing harsh criticism from Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. Lapid said that the law "damages the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of its victims," and that Israel is re-examining a 2018 joint statement issued by then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, which rejected blaming Poland for the crimes of the Nazis and their collaborators.

Ben Samuels and Ofer Aderet contributed to this report.

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