Poland Cancels Bennett's Planned Visit, Bennett Says 'I'm Honored'

07 February, 2018, 01:03 | Author: Roderick Gutierrez
  • Far-Right Groups Demand Polish President Sign Holocaust Bill

Israel's education minister said Monday that Poland cancelled his visit to the country amid uproar over proposed Polish legislation that would outlaw blaming Poland for crimes committed during the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it could hurt Poland's strategic relations with Israel and the U.S.

The country has long objected to the use of phrases like "Polish death camps", which suggest the Polish state in some way shared responsibility for camps such as Auschwitz.

"This guarantees Polish interests, such as our dignity and the historical truth - that we will be fairly evaluated in the world", Duda told reporters in Warsaw.

The bill proposed by Poland's ruling conservative Law and Justice Party calls for fines and prison sentences of up to three years for purposely trying to attribute the crimes Nazi Germany carried out during the almost six-year occupation to the Polish nation as a whole.

He says that while Poles who helped save Jews during the Holocaust should be recognized, Poland should also acknowledge that many Poles were complicit in aiding the Nazis.

Israel has voiced concern that the law would ban true statements about the role that some Poles played in Nazi crimes. Activists say the passage of the bill has encouraged a rise in anti-Semitism.

But in a move that appeared created to soften the impact of his decision, President Andrzej Duda said he would also ask Poland's constitutional court to evaluate the bill - leaving open the possibility it would be amended. Polish officials note that a provision in the law exempts historic research and works of art.

US Secretary of Defense Rex Tillerson said in a statement that enactment of the law "adversely affects freedom of speech and academic inquiry".

"We hope that within allotted time until the court's deliberations are concluded, we will manage to agree on changes and corrections", the spokesperson said.

On February 5, Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett said he would travel to Poland to discuss the bill.

But he said the point of the law is to prevent the Polish nation as a whole from being wrongly accused of institutionalized participation in the Holocaust. Amendments to the law envisage fines or imprisonment for up to three years for "sharing responsibility before the Polish people or the state, including for crimes committed by the Third Reich".

Thousands of Poles risked their lives to protect Jewish neighbours during the war.

While there is a consensus among historians that certain Polish individuals and groups did collaborate with the Nazi occupiers, recent Polish governments have sought to challenge that narrative.

The bill will also make it illegal to deny the murder of about 100,000 Poles by units of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) during World War Two, a move likely to increase tensions with neighbouring Ukraine.


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