Polish PM cancels trip to Israel in wake of comments on Poles in Holocaust

File photo. Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki addresses students during the inauguration of the school year 2018/2019 in the Complex of Building and Information Technology Schools named after Mikolaj Kopernik (Nikolaus Kopernikus) in Zory, southern Poland, 3 September 2018. [Andrzej Grygiel/EPA/EFE]

Poland’s prime minister has cancelled a trip to Israel in the wake of reported remarks made by his Israeli counterpart suggesting Polish complicity during the Holocaust, an aide in his office told Polish media on Sunday (17 February).

A government spokeswoman confirmed to Reuters that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki would not attend the summit and would send Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz instead.

Morawiecki informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his decision to cancel his visit in a telephone call on Sunday afternoon, spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska said.

The summit of four central and Eastern European countries, known as the Visegrad Four, is set to be held in Jerusalem this week.

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Poland’s government has sought to debunk references to potential Polish collaboration in the Holocaust, in an effort to “fight for the truth,” Morawiecki told Poland’s parliament last year.

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement the prime minister, who was in Warsaw for a US-sponsored Middle East conference when he made the comments, had been misquoted by The Jerusalem Post, which issued a corrected story.

In a later statement, Netanyahu’s office said in his remarks on the question of Polish collaboration with Nazi occupiers, he had not cast any blanket blame.

Netanyahu’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, sounded circumspect about Morawiecki’s cancellation.

“In diplomacy one always tries to avoid causing offence. But no one will change historical truth,” Katz told Israel’s Reshet 13 TV. “Poles collaborated with the Nazis, certainly.”

Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari was summoned by Poland’s government on Friday and was asked to clarify Netanyahu’s comments.

Morawiecki said in an interview published on Sunday by Polish news agency PAP that Azari explained that Netanyahu was referring to individual cases of Poles collaborating with Nazis.

Poland had summoned Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari on Friday for clarification of Netanyahu’s comments.

Tensions between Israel and Poland ran high last year after Poland introduced new legislation that would make the use of phrases such as “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in prison.

Polish lawmakers back Holocaust bill, drawing Israeli outrage, US concern

Polish lawmakers approved a bill yesterday (1 February) that would impose jail terms for suggesting Poland was complicit in the Holocaust, drawing concern from the United States and outrage from Israel, which denounced “any attempt to challenge historical truth”.

After pressure from the US government and an outcry in Israel, Poland watered down the legislation, removing the prison sentences.

Many Poles still refuse to accept research showing thousands participated in the Holocaust in addition to the thousands who risked their lives to help the Jews.

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