February 19, 2019 / 1:32 PM / a month ago

Orban urges end to Israeli-Polish rift over Poland's WW2 role

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Hungarian leader Viktor Orban urged Poland and Israel on Tuesday to resolve their dispute over accusations of Polish complicity in the Holocaust, making the appeal in Jerusalem after Warsaw pulled out of a planned Israeli-hosted summit.

The Hungarian prime minister and counterparts from Slovakia and the Czech Republic held back-to-back talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in lieu of the formal gathering of the central European Visegrad Group of countries that also includes Poland.

Poland withdrew from the summit after Israel’s acting foreign minister, Israel Katz, said on Monday that “many Poles” had collaborated with the Nazis in World War Two and shared responsibility for the Holocaust.

In Warsaw, Poland’s deputy foreign minister said his government wanted Israel to apologize for Katz’s remarks. A spokesman for Netanyahu had no immediate comment.

After meeting Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Orban asked by a reporter if he was disappointed by Poland’s absence, said: “I think it would be better that they would be here”.

“When you have two friends having discussions with each other the only hope you can have is that they will talk directly with each other and improve the situation,” Orban said. “That’s my hope also.”

Netanyahu, who was standing at the podium with Orban when the question was asked, did not respond directly, saying only that the Hungarian leader was a “superb diplomat”.

Any formal apology to Poland could be problematic for Netanyahu, who is vying for a fifth term in an April 9 election.

The right-wing leader has faced criticism at home over what some see as a bid to win allies in central Europe at the expense of revising Holocaust history and whitewashing anti-Semitism.

The diplomatic row with Poland has been escalating since Friday, when some Israeli media reported remarks by Netanyahu in which he appeared to accuse the Polish nation of involvement in the Holocaust..

Netanyahu’s office said he had been misquoted in his response to a reporter’s question during a visit to Warsaw about Polish legislation related to Holocaust remembrance, and that he had not cast any blanket blame.

Many Poles refuse to accept research showing thousands of their countrymen participated in the Holocaust in addition to thousands of others who risked their lives to help the Jews.

Many of the six million Jewish dead perished in camps in Poland during its occupation by Nazi Germany.

Tensions between Israel and Poland also rose last year after Poland introduced new legislation that would have made the use of phrases such as “Polish death camps” punishable by up to three years in prison.

After pressure from the United States and an outcry in Israel, Poland watered down the legislation, scrapping the prison sentences.

Additional reporting by Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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