Relations between Poland and Israel nose-dived on Thursday after the Polish Senate joined lawmakers in the lower house by voting to enact a law that criminalises reference to Poles’ complicity in the Holocaust.
The controversial bill now only needs the signature of the Polish president to become law, at which point anyone referring to ‘Polish death camps’ or Polish collaboration with the Nazis during the Holocaust will risk three years in jail.
It had the support of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, which said the law was needed to protect the country’s reputation and to make sure historians acknowledge that Poles as well as Jews were killed by the Nazis.
“We, the Poles, were victims, as were the Jews,” Deputy Prime Minister Beata Szydlo. “It is a duty of every Pole to defend the good name of Poland. Just as the Jews, we were victims.”
But the news enraged Israeli ministers, who broke their silence after Poland’s Senate voted overwhelmingly to legislate, with Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to recall Israel’s ambassador.
Ahead of the vote, Netanyahu had said that Israel had “no tolerance for the distorting truth, rewriting history or denying the Holocaust,” but Katz said the Senate’s actions “constitute a denial of responsibility and of Poland’s role in the Jewish Holocaust”.
Tempers had flared earlier in the week when Poles took unkindly to comments from Israeli politicians like Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who said the bill “should be buried in the Polish ground, which is soaked with the blood of Jews”.
The head of a Polish state-run TV channel later said on-air that the camps should instead be called “Jewish camps,” asking: “Who ran the crematoria there anyway?”
Israel’s foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Jerusalem “adamantly opposed” the bill, adding: “Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth. No law will change the facts.”
Likewise, Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant called Poland’s actions “de facto Holocaust denial”.
Members of the Israeli Knesset may now enact laws in retribution, criminalising Holocaust denial and the whitewashing of any complicity in the crimes of the Holocaust.