Poland has withdrawn its representation to the Visegrad summit in Jerusalem this week, after a row deepened over Polish collaboration in the Holocaust. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters that remarks by Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, were “racist and unacceptable” and that “this is not something that can be left without a response.”
The diplomatic row began when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at the Warsaw Middle East summit said: “Poles cooperated with the Nazis. I know the history and I don’t whitewash it. I bring it up”. He made the comments after being asked by a reporter what he thought about the Polish law which makes it a criminal offence to attribute culpability to the Polish nation for the Holocaust. He later issued a clarification saying he was not referring to the Polish nation or all Polish people.
Newly appointed Foreign Minister Israel Katz then added on Sunday: “I am a son of a Holocaust survivor… The memory of the Holocaust is something we cannot compromise about, it is something clear and we won’t forget or forgive. In diplomacy you try not to offend, but nobody will change the historical truth to do something like that. Poles collaborated with the Nazis, definitely”. This morning he doubled down on his comments in an interview with Israel Radio saying: “The Poles took part in the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. Poland became the biggest cemetery of the Jewish people”.
Netanyahu has made improving relations with the Visegrad group a strategic priority, but the absence of the Polish Prime Minister will cast a shadow over efforts to build strong partnerships with Eastern European states. The Czech Prime Minister, Andrej Babis, Slovakia’s Peter Pellegrini, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban are still expected to attend the summit in Jerusalem on 18-19 February.
Poland’s ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski tweeted on Sunday: “it is really astonishing that the newly appointed foreign minister of Israel quotes such a shameful and racist remark. Utterly unacceptable.”
Polish President Andrej Duda said that if Netanyahu’s remarks suggested that the Polish nation collaborated with the Nazis then: “Israel would not be a good place to meet”.