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.
While life in Israel has returned to normal and hopes are high that Britain is set for a summer without restrictions thanks to vaccines, for billions around the world there is no such imminent light at the end of the tunnel. In the majority of countries around the globe, particularly the poorest, the vaccine rollout has barely kicked off.
That's why Jewish News, the leading source of news and opinion for the entire UK community, is throwing its full weight behind UNICEF’s VaccinAid campaign by using this platform usually reserved for encouraging donations towards our own journalism to instead urge our readers around the globe to perform the greatest mitzvah: saving a life.
We have never before done this for any charity fundraiser but it's hard to recall a campaign that affects so many people, and indeed an entire planet aching for a return to normality. Just like the Chief Rabbi and Rachel Riley, we hope to boost the mission to deliver two billion vaccines, 165 million treatments and 900 million test kits around the world by the end of this year.
Please donate as much as you can, in the spirit of the Talmudic sages: “to save one life is to save the world entire”