Jewish leaders in Poland said Monday that they were offended Israel's acting foreign minister said Poles "suckled anti-Semitism with their mothers' milk."
The leaders issued a statement Monday saying that accusing all Poles of anti-Semitism slighted thousands of Poles honored by Israel's Holocaust memorial center, Yad Vashem, for helping Jews during the Holocaust.
The comment on Sunday by the Israeli minister, Yisrael Katz, led to the scuttling of a meeting of central European leaders in Israel this week.
Katz quoted a former Israeli prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, in making his remark alleging all Poles are prone to anti-Semitism.
Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, and Union of Jewish Religious Communities head Monika Krawczyk said Shamir's words "were unjust already when they were first said, in 1989."
The two continued that the words Katz repeated "are even more unjust today, 30 years later, when so much has been done on both sides for a mutual understanding of our very difficult, but shared history."
The American Jewish Committee meanwhile said it hoped years of reconciliation work between Poland and Israel will not be undone by the dispute.
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said Monday that "competing historical narratives" had strained the two countries' relations before.
Harris says such disputes usually result from "varying assessments of the magnitude of anti-Semitism in Poland, especially before and during World War II."
But he said it was important for public officials in Israel and Poland to choose their words carefully and not to let disagreements "escalate out of control."
Noting that Poland was a center of Jewish life for centuries, Harris said: "1,000 years of Jewish presence on Polish soil cannot be reduced to a single headline or sound bite."
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