US State Dept appeals for Poland-Israel ‘dialogue’

The US Department of State has issued a statement calling on both Israel and Poland to reconcile. The State Department emphasizes that the two countries are important allies and friends of the US and called on the two countries to “find a way to listen to each other”.

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According to the statement, quoted by the Polish Radio's information agency (IAR), the US Department of State appealed to Israel and Poland to move forward and continue their close cooperation over common interests.

The position of the US State Department is indicative of Washington appreciating the cooperation with Poland on organising last week's ministerial conference on the Middle East in Warsaw, as well as Israel's participation in the meeting. In the statement, the US State Department expressed a hope that this event would help to seek new ways of bringing peace and stability to the region.

The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday evening that during his stay in Warsaw, Benjamin Netanyahu had said that Poles had collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust.

Israeli Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari was summoned by the Polish Foreign Ministry on Friday to offer explanations regarding the Israeli PM's words. The ambassador said PM Netanyahu was not talking about Polish state or the Polish nation and that the statement had been taken out of context.

On Sunday, Israel’s new acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, referring to the words earlier attributed by Israeli media to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu (that Poles had collaborated with the Nazis in the Holocaust) said that the Israeli Prime Minister had expressed himself clearly and correctly.

"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 [Israel's former prime minister - ed.] Yitzhak Shamir, whose father was murdered by Poles, said, they suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk," Katz said.

After Katz's comments, Polish PM Mateusz Morawiecki on Monday cancelled Poland's presence at the Visegrad Group (V4) summit in Israel. Hours later it was acknowledged that in the absence of Polish representation the summit would not take place and there would only be bilateral meetings between Israeli and Visegrad states representatives.

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Unwelcome for Israel, the US and Poland alike

The bust-up over the V4 summit in Israel is an unwelcome development for Israel, the US and Poland too. Mr Netanyahu had hoped to show to his own electorate and to a western audience that he has allies in the EU. The US wanted to demonstrate that it is successfully building its coalition against Iran. And Poland wanted to show that it was increasing its global presence to the Middle East.

This is why the US is visibly concerned about the dispute between Poland and Israel. A dispute all the more puzzling since Israel had signed the joint statement with Poland last year acknowledging that Poland as a state and nation bore no responsibility for the German Nazi Holocaust.

The devil lies in the election campaign currently in full swing in Israel. The battle for votes of Israelis of Russian origin and those who want a tough stance taken on anti-semitism of past history has been heating up for months.

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Polish reaction inevitable

It is difficult to imagine how Poland could have reacted differently to Mr Katz’s remarks than in the way it has. The remarks were deeply offensive, painting a negative stereotype of Poles and their behaviour. It was the equivalent of a Polish politician stereotyping Jews for their financial clout or presence in Hollywood. No Polish politician could get away with such comments on the world stage, and there is no reason why Mr Katz should get away with his.

Poland too is in the middle of election year and no politician could ignore such provocation as provided by Mr Katz. As it is, there has been criticism that government officials were too timid in responding to incidents during the Middle East Conference, such as the prominent US journalist statement that Jewish Ghetto fighters in Warsaw were pitted against the “Polish and Nazi regime” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s demand that Poland compensate Jews fully for property lost during the war in Poland.

There was controversy around the Middle East Conference in the first place because it positioned Poland as being potentially ambivalent towards the EU stance on the Iran nuclear deal and unnecessarily getting involved in a region where it has few direct interests. The incidents during and around the conference seemed to confirm the critics' doubts. They are seen to have severely weakened the position of the current FM Jacek Czaputowicz. Some have even criticized PM Morawiecki, despite his firm reaction to the words of both Mr Netanyahu and Mr Katz, for being too passive in allowing the conference to happen. Pointed remarks about how the ruling party leader Jarosław Kaczyński “was not consulted” have been doing the rounds on the “unattributable quotes” market.

US expects Israel to address the problem

The State Department’s statement, together with less guarded words from the US Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher who called on the Israeli FM to unreservedly apologise for his remarks, make it clear that Israel this time needs to move. Just as the State Department last year, in its calls for Polish-Israeli dialogue in the wake of the dispute over the penalisation clause in the Defamation law, was hinting heavily that Poland should deal with that particular problem.