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Poland and Israel briefly clash over Netanyahu’s Holocaust comments

Warsaw, Poland – A short-lived but emblematic diplomatic clash opposed Poland and Israel over the Holocaust remembrance and legacy.

Poland and Israel clash: On the importance of Holocaust semantics

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “the Poles collaborated with the Germans” to kill Jewish people during the Second World War, according to several media outlets present on the scene, including the Jerusalem Post and the Haaretz newspaper. The comments were made on the sidelines of a visit of the Jewish Ghetto Museum in Warsaw, as M. Netanyahu was visiting the Polish capital to attend the controversial two-day U.S.-led conference on the Middle-East and Iran.

These comments immediately sparked the outrage of Polish President Andrzej Duda who called to move the Visegrad Group summit of the 18-19 February, planned to be held in Jerusalem, as Kafkadesk reported earlier. “Israel would not be a good place to meet”, Poland’s head of state tweeted.

But the diplomatic crisis seemed to have been resolved overnight. On Friday morning, the office of Israel’s Prime Minister attempted to calm everyone down and clarified Netanyahu’s statements, saying that he only said “some Poles” collaborated with Nazi Germany in the mass deportation and killing of Poland’s Jewish population during the Second World War.

Summoned by Polish authorities, Israel’s Ambassador to Warsaw Anna Azari also issued a statement on Friday Morning to clear the air: “I was present during the Prime Minister’s briefing and he didn’t say that the Polish nation collaborated with the Nazis, he only said that no person was sued for speaking about Poles who did cooperate with them”.

A spokesman of the Polish president later said that the Jerusalem summit between the V4 and Israel would still take place, claiming the controversy arose from “harmful media manipulation”.

Last year, tensions between Poland and Israel rose when Warsaw passed the so-called “Holocaust law”, which made it illegal to accuse the Polish state and nation of being complicit of Nazi Germany’s crimes during the Second World War. Pressured by Washington and Jerusalem, the Polish government eventually watered down the bill and removed the possibility of fines or a prison sentence.

A recent report singled out the rise of Holocaust revisionism in Poland and the current government’s failure to provide an accurate assessment of the country’s role in the mass murder of its Jewish population.

A controversial summit on Middle-East security in Warsaw

While most of European states only sent second-rank representatives to the conference in Warsaw, Benjamin Netanyahu was the only head of government and the highest ranking foreign representative to attend the event, along with U.S. vice-president Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The conference has been criticized from the start as a ploy from Washington to divide the EU on Iran by relying on Warsaw, one of its closest allies on the continent.

Facing criticism, the conference initially supposed to be focused on the threat presented by Tehran – Israel’s arch-enemy in the region – was then watered-down to address the broader and more consensual topic of “peace and security in the Middle East”.

A change of rhetoric M. Netanyahu apparently didn’t completely adhere to, when he reportedly stated that this conference was meant to “promote common interests in the war against Iran” – before correcting himself and replacing “the war” with “the fight” against Iran.

To make matters even worse, the Israeli Prime Minister was forced to stay one more night in Warsaw when an airport lorry accidentally hit and damaged the plane that was due to take him back to Tel-Aviv.