Poland cancels Israeli delegation’s visit to discuss Holocaust reparations

Poland cancelled the visit of an Israeli delegation scheduled to arrive to discuss the return of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust.

By David Isaac, World Israel News 

Poland’s Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that it was cancelling the visit of a senior Israeli delegation to Warsaw to discuss Holocaust reparations.

The ministry said that it had made the decision after “Israel made last-minute changes in the composition of the delegation, indicating that the talks will focus mainly on issues related to the return of Jewish property during the Holocaust.”

The issue of returning property to Jews who suffered during the Holocaust has become a bone of contention between Israel and Poland recently. The issue has led to a wave of protests in Poland.

On Saturday, thousands of Polish nationalists marched to the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw, protesting that the U.S. is putting pressure on Poland to compensate Jews whose families lost property during the Holocaust.

“Why should we have to pay money today when nobody gives us anything?” said 22-year-old protester Kamil Wencwel. “Americans only think about Jewish and not Polish interests.”

Poland views itself as a victim of the Holocaust and not a perpetrator. In 2012, then President Barack Obama caused a diplomatic incident when he referred to a Nazi death camp as a “Polish death camp,” bringing a blistering rebuke from Poland’s prime minister at the time, Donald Tusk.

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“When someone says ‘Polish death camps,’ it’s as if there were no Nazis, no German responsibility, as if there was no Hitler,” Mr. Tusk said at the time. “That is why our Polish sensitivity in these situations is so much more than just simply a feeling of national pride.”

Yesterday, Israel’s Ministry for Social Equality announced the coming departure of the delegation, which would be led by the ministry’s director-general, Avi Cohen Scali.

The announcement read, “The government of Israel views the restoration of the Jewish property and the promotion of Holocaust survivors’ rights as a moral imperative of the Jewish state. No factor, political or anti-Semitic, will stop us from carrying out this important order … The hourglass is running out, and we must act more vigorously before it is too late.”

According to the Walla! news site, Labor Knesset Member Itzik Shmuli took the opportunity to blame the Netanyahu administration. MK Shmuli, who chairs the Pensioners and Holocaust Survivors Caucus, said following the news of Poland’s cancellation, “Anyone willing to negotiate with the Poles about the very memory of the Holocaust should not be surprised that in the end we will be humiliated by the Poles.”

“The entire responsibility is on the government, which instead of fighting in the first place, has put the historical Jewish narrative up for sale,” he said.

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Blue-and-White Party co-leader Yair Lapid, tweeted, “Once again the Polish government embarrasses the government of Israel regarding the memory of the Holocaust. It started with the Holocaust-denial law, and has now reached the issue of property restitution (about which one could say ‘you murdered and inherited’).”

The Holocaust-Denial law to which MK Lapid referred was passed by the Polish parliament last year and criminalized any accusation that Poland was complicit in the Holocaust. The law was later amended to make any offenses civil, and not criminal, offenses.

In June, 2018, the Netanyahu administration came under criticism for a joint statement with Poland about the Holocaust. Yad Vashem, the official memorial to the Holocaust in Israel, issued a statement in its wake, saying “”A thorough review by Yad Vashem historians shows that the historical assertions, presented as unchallenged facts, in the joint statement contain grave errors and deception.”