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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Israel criticises Polish PM for Second World War 'Jewish perpetrators' remark

Yair Lapid said Israel should recall its ambassador immediately in response to Mateusz Morawiecki's comments

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany. Michaela Rehle/ Reuters
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany. Michaela Rehle/ Reuters

Israeli politicians accused Poland's prime minister of anti-Semitism on Saturday for equating the Polish perpetrators in the Holocaust to its supposed "Jewish perpetrators" in the Second World War, setting off a new chapter in a dispute over Poland's new bill criminalising the mention of Polish complicity in the Nazi-led genocide.

Yair Lapid, head of the centrist opposition Yesh Atid party, said Israel should recall its ambassador immediately in response to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's comments, which he called "anti-Semitism of the oldest kind".

"The perpetrators are not the victims. The Jewish state will not allow the murdered to be blamed for their own murder," said Mr Lapid, the son of a Holocaust survivor.

Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay said Mr Morawiecki sounded like any other Holocaust denier in the remarks he made at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.

"The blood of millions of Jews cries from the earth of Poland over the distortion of history and the escape from blame. Jews were murdered in the Holocaust and Poles took an active part in their murder," Mr Gabbay said. "The government of Israel has to be a voice for the millions of murdered and strongly denounce the Polish prime minister's words."

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Mr Morawiecki was responding to a question from an Israeli journalist at the conference. Asking about a new Polish law that criminalises some statements about the Holocaust, the journalist shared a personal story about his parents being reported to the Nazis by Polish neighbours. He asked if he would now be considered a criminal in Poland for relating the story.

"Of course it's not going to be punishable, not going to be seen as criminal, to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian, not only German perpetrators," Mr Morawiecki said in response.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also attended the Munich conference, called his Polish counterpart's comment "outrageous".

"There is a problem here of lack of understanding of history and lack of sensitivity to the tragedy of our people," Mr Netanyahu said, adding that he planned to speak with Mr Morawiecki soon.

It was just the latest fallout from the Polish Holocaust speech law that has drawn outrage in Israel and the US.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials have sharply criticised the legislation that criminalises blaming Poland as a nation for crimes committed by Nazi Germany. Israeli critics have accused Poland of seeking to use the law to whitewash the role of some Poles who helped Germans murder Jews during the war. Academics estimate that Poles killed about 200,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

Polish authorities say they just want to protect Poland from being depicted as a collaborator of the Nazis when the country was Adolf Hitler's first victim, and suffered through nearly six years of war and occupation.

Israeli Labour Party politician Itzik Shmuly, who is pushing for a counter bill in the Israeli parliament to criminalise the denial of Nazi collaboration, said on Twitter that "the next step of Morawiecki's pathetic project to erase the crimes of the Polish people is probably going to be blaming the Jews for their own Holocaust and presenting the Nazis as victims of the circumstances".

Mr Morawiecki's office made no comment about the uproar in Israel.