Jewish organisations react to Israeli FM's comments

A number of Jewish organisations have commented on controversial statements by Israel's Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who accused Poles of anti-Semitism.

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“Poles collaborated with the Nazis, and as (Israel's former prime minister) Yitzhak Shamir, whose father was murdered by Poles, said, they suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk”, Mr Katz said on Sunday.

The statement made by Israel’s FM led to a diplomatic incident between Poland and Israel. Poland cancelled its delegation to a Visegrad Group summit in Israel which was to be attended by Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Following the diplomatic spat, several Jewish groups commented on Katz's statements.

The American Jewish Committee

The CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) David Harris issued a statement in which he indicated that Poland and Israel have managed to build good relations. He stressed the importance of "choosing our words carefully — knowing when to speak, how to speak, and where to speak."

"Most recently… Poland agreed to host an intergovernmental conference on the Middle East, especially Iran, to which Israel attached the greatest importance," Harris noted, saying that the most recent dispute stems from “varying assessments of the magnitude of anti-Semitism in Poland, especially before and during World War II.

The Union of Jewish Communities in Poland

The Union of Jewish Communities in Poland (ZGWŻ) released a statement, also signed by Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, which argued that accusing all Poles of anti-Semitism, insults the Righteous, "and us, Polish Jews, who are part of this society."

It stated that the words by Israel's former PM Yitzhak Shamir that Katz quoted "were already unjust when they were uttered for the first time, in 1989” and “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 ZGWŻ said.

It also underlined that Poles constitute the largest group among the Righteous Among the Nations, individuals honoured by the Jewish people for actively helping them survive the Holocaust, despite “often risking their own lives as well as their families.”

"Levelling an accusation of anti-Semitism against all Poles, also insults these Righteous … And it also insults us, Polish Jews who are part of that society," the group wrote.

The World Jewish Congress

The deterioration in Polish-Israeli relations was also criticised by the leader of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), Ronald Lauder.

“As someone who has been deeply engaged in promoting Polish-Jewish understanding for over three decades, I can only decry the deterioration in relations between Israel and Poland. It is unfortunate for both Jews and Poles that obnoxious and offensive stereotypes, that have caused so much pain and suffering on both sides over the years, continue to circulate”, Mr Lauder’s statement reads.