Israel says Polish bill to limit property restitution is immoral

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also condemned the bill. Emmanuel Dunand/PAP/EPA

The Israeli embassy in Warsaw has condemned as “immoral” a proposed amendment to a Polish law that will limit the ability of claimants to seek restitution for property they lost during the Holocaust, and warned that it will seriously affect relations between Poland and Israel.

Property restitution has long been a sensitive point in Poland's relations with the Jewish world. Jewish groups and Israel have often voiced their frustration over a lack of some form of restitution for Holocaust survivors and their families for property lost during the Second World War.

According to the new Code of Administrative Procedure, passed by the Sejm (lower house) on Thursday evening, courts may consider appeals regarding administrative decisions on property only if they were made within the previous 30 years. Critics say that would put a time limit on requests for restitution.

Shortly after the measure was passed, the Israeli Embassy in Poland published a statement on Twitter.

"Preserving the memory of the Holocaust and caring for the rights of Holocaust survivors, including the issue of restitution of Jewish property looted during the Holocaust, are crucial elements of identity and are at the heart of the existence of the State of Israel," it wrote.

It pointed out that "the Terezin declaration, adopted in 2009, calls on all interested states to work for the return of Jewish property looted during the Holocaust."

The statement also indicated that "Israel expects that the parties to the Declaration will act in accordance with its provisions."

It added: "Poland's rejection of the implementation of the Declaration is a serious and very disturbing action. The current amendment to the law will make it impossible to return Jewish property or to seek compensation for it by survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants and the Jewish community to whom Poland was home for centuries. It is incomprehensible.

"This immoral law will seriously affect relations between our countries. We are taking this attempt to prevent the return to the rightful owners of property plundered in Europe from Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators very seriously. Poland knows what is the right step to take in this matter," stated the Israeli embassy.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also condemned the bill.

"This is a direct and painful attack on the rights of Holocaust survivors and their descendants," he wrote on Twitter on Thursday. "This is not the first time that the Poles are trying to turn a blind eye to what was done in Poland during the Holocaust."

In his response to the statements Poland's Deputy Foreign Minister Pawel Jabłoński wrote on Twitter: "Yesterday's @israelMFA @yairlapid statement must be unequivocally denounced. It features ill will and – most of all – profound lack of knowledge. Poles and Jews alike were victims of horrendous German atrocities during WWII. Law adopted in Sejm protects the victims and their heirs from fraud and abuse & implements the Constitutional Tribunal judgment of 2015. During the so-called ‘wild reprivatisation’ in Warsaw and other Polish cities many were deprived of everything they owned. Any attempt to block the law equals support for continuing this injustice. Neither the state of Israel, nor anyone else should grant such support."

The bill must also be passed by the Senate. No date has been set for a vote there.