2nd Oct 2023

Israel and Poland expel diplomats in Holocaust dispute

  • "The days of Poles harming Jews without consequence have passed and will not return," Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid said (Photo: Wikipedia)

Poland and Israel have all-but severed diplomatic ties after Poland ratified a new law banning Holocaust-era property restitutions.

Israel said on Saturday (14 August) that it was recalling its top diplomat in Poland, chargé d'affaires Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, for an "indefinite period" and that its new ambassador would not be coming either.

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Its foreign minister, Yair Lapid, also said he "recommends that the Polish ambassador to Israel [Marek Magierowski] prolong his vacation in his country," and uses his time to "explain to the Polish people ... how we [Israelis] will not tolerate contempt for the memory of the victims and the memory of the Holocaust."

The Polish foreign ministry replied saying: "We will take appropriate diplomatic and political action, taking into account the principle of reciprocity".

And Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki complained of "growing hatred towards Poland and Polish citizens in Israel", while promising to "safely bring back home the children of Poland's ambassador to Israel".

Israel's Lapid also criticised Poland in strident terms.

"The days of Poles harming Jews without consequence have passed and will not return," Lapid said.

The new law was "antisemitic and unethical" and Poland had become "an anti-democratic and illiberal country," he added.

"It will not end here. We are holding discussions with the Americans to coordinate our future response," Lapid said.

Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett called Poland's law "shameful". Its defence minister, Benny Gantz, said he was "deeply disturbed" by it.

The law imposes a 30-year moratorium on property claims, ruling out any further WW2-era or communist-period cases.

For his part, Polish president Andrzej Duda defended it in a long statement, saying property restitutions in Poland had become "chaotic" and that he "rejected the rhetoric" that the law was aimed at Jews.

"Let me remind you that 6 million Polish citizens died in World War 2 ... and the German perpetrators of the war never paid Poland any reparations," Duda noted.

Israel was "exploiting this tragedy [WW2] for party-political reasons" in an "irresponsible way", Poland's Morawiecki also said.

Morawiecki noted, in separate comments on Sunday at a Polish memorial for a 1920 battle against Russia, that the West owed Poland a "civilisational debt" because its soldiers had halted the advance of the Soviet Union in Europe.

"Europe has the Polish soldier to thank for the defence of the Latin civilisation," Morawiecki said.

Media law veto?

The Polish parliament, last week, also passed a new law banning majority foreign ownership of media firms, in what critics say was meant to dismantle Poland's largest independent TV station, the US-owned TVN.

The US has complained about both the restitutions law and the media legislation, dubbed 'Lex TVN'.

The EU has also voiced concern over freedom of expression in Poland, alongside its long-standing worries on lack of judicial independence.

But Duda indicated that he might veto Lex TVN in remarks made on Sunday.

"I assure you I will always defend constitutional principles, including free speech", he said, while also promising to "make sure undertakings with our allies [the US] are respected".

"I remind you that, a few years ago, I vetoed reforms to the electoral law on the European Parliament, because the changes might have limited [democratic] representation," Duda said.


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