Israel urges amendments as Polish Holocaust bill signed into law
JANEK SKARZYNSKI (AFP/File)
Israel urged amendments to a controversial bill outlawing any implications of Poland's culpability for crimes committed during the Holocaust as the country's president signed the legislation on Tuesday clearing the way for its enactment into law.
Polish President Andrzej Duda signed the controversial bill, but announced that he would also send the law to the Constitutional Tribunal to rule on whether it conforms with constitutional guarantees on freedom of speech.
The legislation, Duda explained in a press conference, was intended to safeguard his country's image abroad but has instead sparked tensions with Israel, the US and Ukraine.
"I have decided to sign the law but also to send it to the Constitutional Tribunal," Duda told reporters in Warsaw, explaining that the bill was not introduced in defiance but in defense of its suffering and international reputation.
Duda said that his decision "preserves the interests of Poland, our dignity and the historical truth" and also "takes into account the sensitivity of those for whom the question of historical memory of the Holocaust remains exceptionally important, especially those who have survived and who, as long as they can, should tell the world about this past and their experience."
Israel's foreign ministry issued a statement expressing its "reservations" about the bill and said that it hoped it could be amended prior to the Constitutional Tribunal's final verdict.
"Israel and Poland have a common responsibility to investigate and preserve the history of the Holocaust," the foreign ministry said.
The legislation was introduced by Poland's governing right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party to stop people from erroneously describing Nazi German death camps as being Polish, simply due to their geographical location.
The bill criminalizes accusations of Polish complicity in the Holocaust, carrying prison sentences of up to three years. The law will come into force in two weeks' time.
Israel believes the law could threaten academic research of the Holocaust or open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony should it concern the involvement of individual Poles allegedly killing or giving up Jews to the Germans.
"Israel does not have a monopoly on suffering," Robert Winnicki, Member of Parliament from the National Movement coalition, told i24NEWS. "Poles and Russians also suffered. How can Israel complain when Israel itself doesn't recognize the Armenian genocide?"
During the war, Poland was attacked and occupied by Nazi Germany and six million of its citizens were killed, half of them Jews.
More than 6,700 Poles -- outnumbering any other nationality -- have been honored by Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as "Righteous Among the Nations," a title given to non-Jews who stood up to the Nazis.
Polish officials have defended the legislation and lamented Israel's "overreaction" to the law.
"We are very much taken aback by Israel's reaction. We are not killing Jews with rocks...They can feel free in our country," Polish coalition lawmaker Marek Jakubiak told i24NEWS.
"Poland is a friend of Israel. Escalating the situation instead of sitting and talking about the truth of history is not good for Israel or for Poland," he said.
Malgorzata Kidawa, Deputy Speaker of the Polish Parliament, told i24NEWS that the law "doesn't represent all of Poland" and called on Israel to "continue engaging Poles, including from opposition parties."
On Monday, the Polish government nixed a planned visit to the country by Israel’s education minister Naftali Bennett who had vowed to tell "the truth" about Warsaw's complicity in Nazi crimes.
"The Government of Poland cancelled my visit because I mentioned the crimes of its people. I am honored," Bennett said. "I accepted an invitation to a dialogue based on truth, the Polish Government chose to avoid this truth."
"Yes the death camps in Poland were built and operated by the Germans, and we cannot allow them to evade responsibility for these actions. However, many Polish people all over the country chased, informed or actively took part in the murder of over 200,000 Jews during and after the Holocaust," Bennett added.
The US State Department also warned last week that the bill could have "repercussions" on "Poland's strategic interests and relationships -- including with the United States and Israel".
"This law doesn't represent all of Poland,"
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