Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended a controversial deal on a Polish Holocaust law, but hinted he could take further action after scathing criticism from historians.
Poland amended the law last month to remove criminal penalties, after sparking outrage in Israel and elsewhere by allowing jail terms of up to three years for ascribing Nazi crimes to the Polish nation or state.
But last week, Israel’s renowned Holocaust memorial and research centre Yad Vashem harshly criticised the amended law and a joint statement related to it by Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki.
It said the joint statement contained “grave errors and deceptions” by minimising Poles’ involvement in the Holocaust and added that the law remained problematic even after it was amended.
Netanyahu said Sunday “the purpose of the contacts with the Polish government was to revoke the criminal clauses in the Polish law which cast a pall of fear over research and free discussion concerning the Holocaust. This objective was achieved.”
The Israeli negotiating team said last week that Yad Vashem’s chief historian, Dina Porat, “accompanied the process from its inception.”
Speaking at the start of a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said a senior historian was involved in writing the joint statement.
“I listened with great attentiveness to the comments of historians, including those concerning some things which were not included in the statement,” the prime minister said.
“I respect this and will see that this is given expression,” he added, signalling Israel could take further steps regarding the Polish law.
Israel was deeply concerned the original legislation could allow Holocaust survivors to be prosecuted for their testimony on the involvement of individual Poles in killing Jews or betraying them to the Germans.
There were also fears the law would prevent open academic research on the Holocaust in Poland.
The main aim of the legislation was to prevent Nazi German death camps in Poland, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, being described as Polish.
Poland, occupied by Nazi Germany for much of World War II, lost six million of its citizens including three million Jews.
Yad Vashem pointed to the joint statement’s assertion that “numerous Poles” had risked their lives to rescue Jews, among other issues.
“Poles’ assistance to Jews during the Holocaust was relatively rare, and attacks against and even the murder of Jews were widespread phenomena,” Yad Vashem said.
It added that while removing criminal sanctions from the law was important, civil penalties remained possible and the amendment had not specifically exempted research and education.