Op-ed: By signing off on the ‘joint statement’ with the Polish PM on the Polish treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, Netanyahu gave official state approval to the historical lies and distortions within. It took Israeli officials and institutions—including Yad Vashem—too long to come out against it. It’s too late to cancel it now.

On Wednesday, June 27, at 7pm, radio and TV broadcasts in Israel were halted. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat himself down in front of the cameras to announce that the Polish government had agreed to cancel the outrageous articles—which were met with a tidal wave of criticism not just in Israel and in the Jewish world, but also in the US, Canada, Europe and inside Poland itself—in the law concerning Polish treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.

As a condition for scrapping these articles—a move approved with great urgency and a massive majority that very day in both houses of Polish parliament and quickly signed by the Polish president—Netanyahu read out, in nice English, a joint declaration by him and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

I was following from afar the capitulation of the Polish government, which is under the full control of the Law and Justice Party—a nationalistic, conservative party with anti-Semitic tendencies. I was following the discussion in the Warsaw parliament and the gloating from the liberal Polish opposition, which feared the criminal articles in the legislation.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky, Getty Images)
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky, Getty Images)


And so I waited with impatience for Netanyahu’s statement, and I was truly shocked by it. My ears refused to listen and my mind refused to believe that the prime minister of Israel can sign off on such a laughable collection of historical lies, fake facts and expressions that only the zealot nationalist camp in Poland uses. And then claim the wording was approved by historians.

When that shameful “press conference” ended, I sat down to write a raging analysis for Yedioth Ahronoth. It was published on Thursday. I will allow myself to briefly quote from it here:

“The amendment to the Polish law… erases the problematic articles in it and empties it of its content. In this sense, the Polish government completely withdrew from its positions.

“However the amendment is accompanied by a joint statement from two prime ministers, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mateusz Morawiecki. It is a controversial statement, distorted and outrageous, unfortunate and unnecessary. It’s so damaging that a long historical paper is needed in order to fix it.

“For the first time, we heard from the prime minister of Israel a condemnation of ‘anti-Polonism,’ a term invented by Polish nationalists as a counterweight to anti-Semitism.

“The statement includes sweeping positive assertions about the scope of the activities to save Jews by the nationalist Polish underground groups under the Nazi occupation, assertions that many historians would dispute. It has a farfetched and irresponsible attempt to define the murderous actions—both direct and indirect—of many Poles towards their Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust as isolated incidents done by lone individuals.

“Not just as a Polish Jew who was born during World War II to parents who are Holocaust survivors, but also as a regular Israeli citizen who is interested in the history of his people and the European nations in the 20th century, I wouldn’t have signed such a statement. Signing it is wrong.”

The lower house of the Polish parliament voting on the amendment to the Holocaust law (Photo: Reuters)
The lower house of the Polish parliament voting on the amendment to the Holocaust law (Photo: Reuters)


I will confess without shame that I was convinced that the very next day, or perhaps that very evening, Israeli public discourse would be filled with decisive, clear and strong criticism against this statement. I was convinced that when the binding wording of the statement—which was immediately published in websites in Israel and abroad—institutions, institutes and of course politicians and their spokespeople, would comes out against it. Against Netanyahu’s capitulation to the internal political needs of the Law and Justice Party, at the expense of historical truth and the Jewish and human justice.

But nothing of the sort happened. Yad Vashem, Jewish and general history departments at universities, Holocaust survivors, organizations, party leaders (with the exception of Yair Lapid), the eloquent speakers in the opposition that torment Netanyahu with their sharp tongues for every meal he orders from outside his own kitchen—they all held their peace. They shrugged their shoulders and went about their business.

Reports on secret meetings between Polish and Israeli teams at the Mossad headquarters to prepare the statement read like a James Bond movie script. Why not take it up a notch and hold the meeting at the Dimona reactor?

Friends from Poland, historians who dedicated many years to investigating and exposing the truth about the Polish treatment of Jews in the Holocaust, who fought valiantly against the “new politics of history” of the Law and Justice Party’s nationalists, asked me about the scope and force of the Israeli reaction to the statement. They asked for naught. There was no reaction. Nothing happened. Only on Wednesday, after eight days, a changed occurred. All of a sudden a big commotion broke out, led by Yad Vashem.

Supposedly, the catalyst is the publication of the joint statement in the newspapers, in a horrible translation to broken Hebrew, by the Polish Foreign Ministry. Supposedly, as none of those who commented on the statement needed a translation, and the original wording was available and easily accessible to all with no effort at all.

Netanyahu reading out the statement (Photo: Shaul Golan)
Netanyahu reading out the statement (Photo: Shaul Golan)


Yad Vashem, for example, explained their silence in the need to closely examine the wording of the statement; “it took its time” to deal with the distortions of history. Come on… I know researchers in Yad Vashem—they wouldn’t need more than a few minutes to point to the factual failures in the joint statement and come out against them.

Failures and distortions, and not “different narratives” as some critical responses to the statement claimed. There is no “Jewish narrative” versus a “Polish narrative” and vice versa. On the issue of Polish treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, there is on the one hand a large mass of proven facts based on thorough and in-depth research done over the last quarter-century by professional historians—Polish, Israeli and American—and on the other hand there is complete disregard to the facts, which are replaced with fabrications and lies. It’s not an alternative narrative, it’s nationalistic propaganda and intentional deception.

Beyond the fact Yad Vashem’s condemnation came too late, it also suffers from overly-detailed references to many different pseudo-historical declarations made in the Netanyahu-Morawiecki statement. It would’ve been enough for this esteemed institution to make one firm assertion against the statement to disqualify it and undermine its content.

As for Education Minister Naftali Bennett, does he not have experts in his employ who would’ve urged him to make his harsh condemnation a week ago? He does. And the eloquent heads of the Zionist Union, can they not read English either?

This isn’t the case of “better late than never.” The day after the statement was released, this might have been remedied. Now, later has come and gone: The State of Israel and its prime minister cannot cancel an important, dramatic international agreement signed nine days prior, claiming they didn’t understand what it said.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talking about the law at the Polish parliament (Photo: Reuters)
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki talking about the law at the Polish parliament (Photo: Reuters)


Only recently did Anna Azari, Israel’s (excellent) ambassador to Warsaw, declared that the diplomatic crisis between Israel and Poland has passed and that the friendly ties between the two countries are back on track. What is she going to say tomorrow? That she was misled by her prime minister?

And Prime Minister Netanyahu himself: Did he, the son of a famed historian and a man with historical savvy, not understand what he was signing? Perhaps he was influenced by the ideological closeness to Law and Justice’s worldviews? Or perhaps he wanted to appear once more as the national savior, which is unnecessary due to the fact the Polish Holocaust law would’ve crumbled and been erased anyway because of the international outcry, the quiet boycott the White House has imposed on Polish government officials and the petition filed by the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists to the constitutional court in Warsaw. The petition undoubtedly gave the “final push to eliminate the law,” explained attorney Calev Myers, the deputy president of the organization.

What has been done cannot be undone: by signing the joint statement, Netanyahu gave official state approval to the historical lies and distortions that the Democratic camp in Poland is disgusted by and fights against. Furthermore, the amendment has yet to come into effect, and the Polish side may backtrack on the move as well.

In any case, the “joint statement” will remain another document lacking in discretion in a collection of similar documents characterizing Netanyahu’s current tenure.

I will conclude with the same sentence that concluded my previous commentary: “It’s a good thing the Polish law has been declawed. It’s not good that such an exaggerated price had to be paid to declaw it.”

As reported by Ynetnews