Poland pulls out of Jerusalem summit after Israel’s new foreign minister fumbles

After Poland lowered the level of its delegation to the V4 summit over a Netanyahu statement, it now says it will cancel its participation altogether after Israel’s new foreign minister added insult to injury.

By World Israel News staff

On his first day on the job as Israel’s acting foreign minister, Yisrael Katz found himself embroiled in a diplomatic controversy with Poland, as its prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, announced his country was pulling out of a regional summit taking place this week in Jerusalem in protest of comments Katz had made.

In an Israeli television interview Sunday, Katz said that the Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.” Earlier in the day, he was named by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as Israel’s top diplomat for the remainder of the current government’s term, as Israel prepares for an April parliamentary election.

His comments came in the context of tensions already growing between Warsaw and Jerusalem after possibly misunderstood or misquoted comments were made by Netanyahu last week in the Polish capital, where he was attending an international gathering on Middle East peace and security.

The question was whether the Israeli prime minister said that “Poles” or “Poland” had collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. In other words, was Netanyahu accusing the Polish nation or individuals of collaboration in the mass murder of Jews?

The Israeli Embassy in Poland contacted the Polish leadership last Thursday and clarified that Netanyahu “didn’t say the Polish nation carried out crimes against Jews, but only that no one has been sued under the Holocaust law for saying ‘Poles’ collaborated.” This was a reference to the Polish law which makes it a crime to blame the Polish nation for Holocaust crimes.

Still, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that he would not be attending this week’s Visegrád Four (V4) summit in Jerusalem, and would send a lower level delegate instead.

The Polish premier reportedly informed his Israeli counterpart of his decision in a phone conversation, which was termed as positive nonetheless.

Apparently, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda had initially threatened to call off Israel’s hosting of the event altogether. The Israeli clarification steered him away from taking such a move, and instead he sufficed with lowering the level of the Polish delegation. Instead of the prime minister, the foreign minister would lead the entourage.

Then, Israel’s acting foreign minister was interviewed by a number of news outlets.

“I am a son of Holocaust survivors and I was even born and grew up in a community made up of Holocaust survivors,” Katz told Israel’s Channel 13 TV on Sunday. “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,” he added. “Poles collaborated with the Nazis, definitely. As [former prime minister] Yitzhak Shamir said, they suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.”

In an Israeli radio interview Monday, the acting foreign minister said that “the Poles took part in the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. Poland became the biggest cemetery of the Jewish people.”

Poland’s Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski tweeted in response to the reference made to the comment made many years ago by Shamir that “it is really astonishing that the newly appointed foreign minister of Israel quotes such a shameful and racist remark. Utterly unacceptable.”

The head of Poland’s Prime Minister’s Office, Michal Dworczyk, told state radio on Monday that Katz’s comments were “disgraceful.”

“In the light of this statement, any participation of representatives of the Polish state in the V4 summit in Israel is under a very big question mark,” Dworczyk said, according to the Reuters news agency.

Later on Monday, Prime Minister Morawiecki made the decision final. “The words of the Israeli foreign minister are racist and unacceptable. It is clear that our foreign minister Czaputowicz will not be travelling to the summit.”

The V4 is comprised of Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.