Jewish organisations urge restraint amid Polish-Israeli spat

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) urged restraint and the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland (ZGWŻ) criticised Israel's acting foreign minister's words on Monday as they tried to defuse the recent incident in Polish-Israeli relations.

Israeli acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Sunday referred to words ascribed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he mentioned that Poles had collaborated with Nazi Germans during the Second World War.

"Our prime minister expressed himself clearly," Katz said. "I am a son of Holocaust survivors (...) The memory of the Holocaust is something we cannot compromise about, it is something clear and we won’t forget or forgive. Poles collaborated with the Nazis, and as (Israeli's former prime minister - PAP) Yitzhak Shamir, whose father was murdered by Poles, said, they suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk."

AJC CEO David Harris issued a statement on Monday in which he observed that Poland and Israel have managed to build good relations, stressing the importance of "choosing our words carefully — knowing when to speak, how to speak, and where to speak."

"It means not allowing individual incidents to escalate out of control," David Harris added.

Harris termed Polish-Israeli relations a "strategic partnership", despite undergoing "another severe test".

"Most recently, despite pressure from certain other countries, Poland agreed to host an intergovernmental conference on the Middle East, especially Iran, to which Israel attached the greatest importance," Harris noted.

He recalled that this week leaders from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, the four countries that make up the Visegrad Group, "were slated to hold a key round of meetings in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but which, sadly, has now been cancelled because of the latest dispute over history."

"Varying assessments of the magnitude of anti-Semitism in Poland, especially before and during World War II," are the background of the most recent dispute, according to the AJC head.

While expressing a view that there are still pockets of anti-Semitism in Poland, Harris stressed that "there is also a small but growing Jewish community, a remarkable Jewish museum in Warsaw, an electrifying annual Jewish cultural festival in Krakow, and, again, deep links between Warsaw and Jerusalem."

"As friends, we need to be able to manage our inevitable differences," the AJC CEO said.

ZGWŻ in its statement, which was also signed by the Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, said that accusing all Poles of anti-Semitism insults the Righteous, "and us, Polish Jews, who are part of this society."

ZGWŻ head Monika Krawczyk and the chief rabbi said that the words by Israel's former PM Yitzhak Shamir that Katz quoted "were unjust already when they were uttered for the first time, in 1989, at a time when the restoration of Polish-Israeli relations had just started after the long night of communism."

"These words are even more upsetting today, 30 years later, when both sides have done so much to foster mutual understanding of our very difficult but shared history. The fact that some Poles took part (indirectly or directly) in the German extermination of Jews during WWII is a historical fact. We also remember that occupied Poland did not create a regime that would collaborate with the Third Reich during WWII."

The Polish Jews also underlined that Poles "constitute the biggest group among the Righteous Among the Nations," or people who helped Jews survive the Holocaust, often risking their own lives as well as their families'.

After Katz's words, PM Mateusz Morawiecki cancelled the participation of the Polish delegation in a Visegrad Group summit that was scheduled to take place in Jerusalem on Tuesday, saying that Israel's acting foreign minister's words were "totally unacceptable."