Polish PM attacks Israeli response to restitution law: 'Irresponsible and unjust'

Polish PM decries decision of Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to downgrade diplomatic relations in wake of law restricting Holocaust-era restitution.

Y Rabinovitz ,

Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki
Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has sharply criticized the decision of Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, to downgrade diplomatic ties between the two countries in the wake of Poland’s passage of a controversial piece of legislation regarding Holocaust-era property restitution.

“The decision of Israel to downgrade its diplomatic representation in Warsaw lacks justification and any sense of responsibility,” Morawiecki stated. “The words spoken by [Israeli Foreign Minister] Yair Lapid enrage every upstanding person.

“I strongly object to all attacks on Poland’s ambassador, Marek Magierowski,” he added. “The result of such aggressive actions on the part of Israel’s government are an increase in hatred of Poland and its citizens. Due to this, I have decided to transfer the children of the Polish ambassador in Israel back to Poland. Poland will never abandon its diplomats in times of trouble.”

Regarding the specific content of Lapid’s accusations, Morawiecki said that, “The use of this tragedy for political ends is irresponsible and shameful. If the Israeli government continues to attack Poland in such a manner, it will most definitely have a very negative impact on our mutual relations – both bilaterally and in international forums.”

Lapid’s comments regarding Poland followed the decision of Polish President Andrzej Duda to sign into law a bill limiting the time-frame within which people may seek restitution for Holocaust-era property theft. The practical effect of the new law is to make it impossible for Jews whose property was stolen during the Holocaust to reclaim it.

Lapid: We are not afraid of anti-Semitic threats

Lapid today responded to Morawiecki's statement and said: "The negative impact on our diplomatic relations began the moment that Poland, in 2018, decided to begin to pass laws whose aim was to harm the memory of the Holocaust and harm the Jewish People. The days when Poland inflicted harm on Jews without response have passed and will not return. Today, Jews have a proud and strong country of their own. We are not afraid of anti-Semitic threats, and we have no intention of letting this shameful anti-Semitic behavior on the part of the Polish government pass in silence."

Yesterday Lapid responded to the legislation and announced: "Today, Poland approved – and not for the first time – an anti-Semitic and unethical law. I have instructed the charge d’affaires of the Israeli embassy in Warsaw to return to Israel immediately for consultations. The new ambassador to Poland, who was due to leave soon for Warsaw, will no longer be departing for Poland at this stage,” he added.

In his own response to Poland’s decision, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “Israeli views the passage of this legislation with the utmost gravity. This is legislation that prevents Jews from receiving compensation for property stolen from them during the Holocaust, and it is regrettable that Poland is choosing to harm those who lost their entire worlds. This decision is both shameful and degrading to the memory of the Holocaust, and one that Israel cannot accept with equanimity.”

Also commenting on the Polish decision was Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who said, “This is an immoral law that I, as the son of Holocaust survivors, am horrified by. Property restitution is but a small component of the restoration of the rights of those who had everything destroyed in one of the most murderous periods of history. I call on all of Israel’s global partners to condemn this law and take action to have it overturned.”

Indeed, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken already issued a statement with regard to the law last week. “The US is deeply concerned that Poland’s Parliament passed legislation today severely restricting the process for Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as other Jewish and non-Jewish property owners, to obtain restitution for property wrongfully confiscated during Poland’s communist era.”

Gideon Taylor, Chairman of Operations of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, also released a statement condemning the law. “The Polish government [has] effectively legally foreclosed the possibility for rightful owners to secure redress for what was taken from them,” he said. Relating to Polish concerns that they were being unfairly blamed for Germany’s actions during the Second World War, Taylor added that, “Poland is, of course, not responsible for what Nazi Germany did during the Holocaust. However, more than 30 years after the fall of Communism, Poland still benefits from this wrongfully acquired property.”