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Israel furious as Poland's president signs bill to limit property claims

WARSAW (Reuters) -Poland’s president has decided to sign a bill that would set limits on the ability of Jews to recover property seized by Nazi German occupiers and retained by post-war communist rulers, drawing fury from Israel which branded the law anti-Semitic.

FILE PHOTO: Polish President Andrzej Duda speaks during a news briefing in Kyiv, Ukraine October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/Pool/File Photo

“I made a decision today on the act, which in recent months was the subject of a lively and loud debate at home and abroad,” Andrzej Duda said in a statement published on Saturday. “After an in-depth analysis, I have decided to sign the amendment.”

Before World War Two, Poland had been home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities, but it was almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis and Jewish former property owners and their descendants have been campaigning for compensation.

Up to now, Jewish expatriates or their descendants could make a claim that a property had been seized illegally and demand its return, but Polish officials argued this was causing uncertainty over property ownership.

In 2015 Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled there should be specific deadlines after which administrative decisions over property titles could no longer be challenged. Changes to the law were adopted by the Polish parliament earlier this week.

The bill sets a 30-year limit for restitution claims.

The issue of Jewish property rights in Poland is further complicated because, unlike other EU states, it has not created a fund to give compensation to people whose property was seized.


Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett condemned the law and said Israel would not simply stand by at its approval. “It is a shameful decision and a disgraceful contempt for the memory of the Holocaust,” he said in a statement.

Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, said: “Poland today, for the first time, approved an anti-Semitic and immoral law.” In response, the head of Israel’s embassy in Warsaw was being called back immediately, he said.

“Poland has tonight become an anti-democratic, non-liberal country that does not honour the greatest tragedy in human history,” Lapid said in a statement.

A new ambassador to Warsaw will not be sent at this stage, Lapid said. He also suggested Poland’s ambassador to Israel extend his vacation and not return to the country.

“He should use the time he has on his hands to explain to the Poles what the Holocaust means to Israel’s citizens and the extent to which we will not tolerate contempt for the memory of those who perished and for the memory of the Holocaust. It will not stop here,” Lapid said.

Israel was discussing further steps with the United States, he added.

The Polish foreign ministry said in a statement it disapproves of the Israeli foreign ministry’s behavior, adding that the government “will take appropriate political and diplomatic actions, bearing in mind the principle of symmetry in bilateral relations.”

“The steps taken by Israel are seriously damaging our relationship,” the ministry also said.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said Washington was deeply concerned that the Polish parliament had passed the bill, and urged Duda not to sign it into law.

Washington is one of Warsaw’s most important allies, but relations between the two countries have been strained by the property issue, as well as other issues such as plans to introduce changes that the opposition says aim to silence a U.S.-owned news channel critical of the government.

The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) on Saturday urged the Polish government to work on resolving the issue of property seized in the past.

“Democracy & justice hits new low in Poland, as President Duda signs a law making it virtually impossible for all former Polish property owners to secure redress for property illegally seized during the Communist era,” Gideon Taylor, chair of operations of the WJRO, said in a statement sent to Reuters.

Reporting by Anna Koper in Warsaw Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem;Editing by Alison Williams and Matthew Lewis