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Facing backlash to errors in amended Polish Holocaust law, Netanyahu to ‘speak up’

“I listened very closely to the historians' comments, especially about things that were left out of the statement. I respect that, and will speak up about it,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 24, 2018. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly government conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on June 24, 2018. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the ongoing controversy over his recent joint statement with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki on an amendment to Poland’s controversial Holocaust law.

The law, which prohibits accusing Poland of complicity in Nazi crimes during World War II, initially included a jail penalty, but was scaled back in the wake of Israeli and global pressure. The amended version of the law removes the threat of criminal sanctions, but leaves anyone perceived to be in violation of the law open to civil action.

In a joint statement with the Polish prime minister, Israel’s Netanyahu supported the amended version, sparking broad condemnation. Many in Israel felt that the joint statement, and indeed the law itself, was rife with historical distortions. 

“I’ve heard the comments from historians, and I respect them and will give them a voice,” Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, responding to the backlash.

“The purpose of the outreach to the Polish government was to have the criminal clauses in the Polish law revoked, which posed a threat to research and free dialogue about the Holocaust,” he said. “That goal was achieved. I thank the team of [advisers] Joseph Ciechanover and Yaakov Nagel, who successfully had the criminal aspects the Polish law removed.”

Netanyahu said his joint statement with his Polish counterpart following the changes to the law had been read over by a prominent historian. However, he said, the statement met with various criticisms.

“I listened very closely to the historians’ comments, especially about things that were left out of the statement. I respect that, and will speak up about it,” said the prime minister.

On Thursday, Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial attacked the joint statement, arguing that it contained “serious, misleading mistakes.”

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