Warsaw, Poland – Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced he would not attend a summit in Israel this week following comments made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Poland’s government spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska announced that “Prime Minister Morawiecki told Prime Minister Netanyahu in a telephone call that Poland will be represented at the summit by Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz”.
On February 18 and 19, leaders from the Visegrad Group countries (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic) were supposed to hold their first summit outside of Central Europe in Jerusalem, along with Israel’s Prime Minister.
But recent events decided otherwise: visiting Warsaw on the sidelines of the two-day international summit on peace and security in the Middle East, Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as saying that “Poles cooperated with the Germans” during the Holocaust in the mass killing of Poland’s Jewish population.
These comments sparked a brief diplomatic crisis, as the Polish Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador on Friday and Polish President Andrzej Duda expressed his anger, saying that in these circumstances, “Israel would not be a good place to meet”.
But the Israeli Prime Minister’s office promptly issued a clarification, arguing that Netanyahu “spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland”. Following this rectification, a spokesman for the Polish president said that the Jerusalem summit would still take place and that the controversy only arose from “harmful media manipulation”.
But as the latest announcement suggests, the matter hasn’t been put to rest: while the summit might still take place, its importance will be crucially hindered by the absence of the Polish Prime Minister.
These heated exchanges between Warsaw and Jerusalem are the latest development in the strained relationship between both countries. Bilateral relations have been under pressure since Poland passed the so-called Holocaust law one year ago, making it illegal to claim the Polish state or nation were complicit in the crimes of Nazi Germany during the Second World War. The bill sparked a backlash, especially from the United States and Israel, with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin saying that “Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination” of Jews, even though many Poles did fight against the Nazis and Poland, as a sovereign state, did not exist at that time. The law was eventually watered down, but still remains in place.
A few weeks ago, a study argued that Holocaust revisionism was on the rise in Poland, singling out the Polish government for failing to paint an even and balanced picture of the country’s role in the mass killing of Jews during Nazi Germany’s occupation.