Poland Demands Israeli Response Over ‘Racist’ Holocaust Comments

Maciej Martewicz

(Bloomberg) -- Poland demanded a response from Israel in a deepening dispute over the Holocaust, with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki condemning comments from the Jewish state’s foreign minister as "racist."

Morawiecki canceled sending a delegation to Jerusalem, where he was slated to meet his counterparts from the Visegrad Group of eastern European nations Monday, after Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu was reported as saying last week that the Polish nation cooperated with Nazi occupiers during World War II.

While Israel clarified that Netanyahu had been talking about “individuals, and not the whole nation” collaborating with the Nazis, the comments drew swift reaction from the government in Warsaw, which has passed laws criminalizing the act of blaming Poland or its people for wartime crimes committed against Jews and other minorities.

The situation escalated when Israel’s newly appointed Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said in a television interview that “Poles imbibed anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.” Katz was citing former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, a Holocaust survivor.

“We’re awaiting a categorical reaction on shameful, unacceptable, and racist words by the newly appointed foreign minister," Morawiecki said. He added that no one from the Polish government would attend the Visegrad 4’s first meeting to take place outside of Europe.

’Visegrad members’

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the leaders of Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia were still coming to Jerusalem and would meet with Netanyahu. However, the meeting would no longer be considered a "Visegrad summit," because that requires the participation of all four Visegrad nations, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.

“It’s going to be a summit with Visegrad members,” he said by text message.

Polish opposition leader Grzegorz Schetyna also demanded an explanation from the Israeli side, and the Foreign Ministry summoned Israel’s ambassador, according to Channel 13. The European Union country has long argued it shouldn’t bear responsibility for acts committed against Jews and others at death camps run by the Nazis on Polish soil.

It’s not the first time Poland and Israel have sparred over the issue. The latter took issue with the Holocaust law passed by the nationalist Law & Justice government last year. The law was later softened, and both countries signed a joint statement condemning anti-Semitism and “anti-Polonism.”

(Adds Israeli Foreign Ministry response in sixth and seventh paragraphs.)

--With assistance from Dorota Bartyzel, Alisa Odenheimer and Michael S. Arnold.

To contact the reporter on this story: Maciej Martewicz in Warsaw at mmartewicz@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Wojciech Moskwa at wmoskwa@bloomberg.net, Michael Winfrey, Paul Abelsky

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