February 15, 2019 / 4:05 PM / 7 months ago

Poland summons Israeli ambassador to clarify Netanyahu comments on Poles in Holocaust

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland summoned Israel’s ambassador on Friday and threatened to scupper a summit in Jerusalem after reported comments in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust.

FILE PHOTO: Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look on during the Middle East summit in Warsaw, Poland, February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement that the prime minister, who was in Warsaw for a U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference, had been misquoted by The Jerusalem Post, which issued a corrected story.

In a later statement, Netanyahu’s office said that in his remarks on the question of Polish collaboration with Nazi occupiers, he had not cast any blanket blame.

Poland, where sensitivities over the issue of its actions during the Holocaust are high, called in Israeli envoy Anna Azari.

The matter of Poland’s conduct during the Holocaust - in which many of the six million Jewish dead were killed in Nazi camps on Polish soil - was at the center of an Israeli-Polish diplomatic dispute last year.

After an outcry in Israel and the United States, Poland’s conservative Law and Justice government backed out of legislation mandating jail terms for anyone suggesting the country had collaborated with the Nazis.

Sensitivities were tested again late on Thursday after Netanyahu answered a question about that law posed by one of the Israeli reporters who had traveled with him to Poland.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted Netanyahu as saying: “The Poles collaborated with the Nazis, and I don’t know anyone who was ever sued for such a statement.”

Yaakov Katz, the Jerusalem Post’s editor, told Reuters the account in his newspaper had used the term “Polish nation”, although not in a direct quote from Netanyahu, and the story was swiftly amended to reflect what he really said.

But Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek said Warsaw wanted the matter “to be clarified unequivocally”. Hours later, Netanyahu’s office issued a second statement.

“In a briefing, PM Netanyahu spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland,” the statement said.

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

Commenting on Netanyahu’s remarks, Polish President Andrzej Duda raised a question mark over a two-day summit in Jerusalem next week of the four central European nations - Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Duda said that if Netanyahu had said what was originally reported, “Israel would not be a good place to meet in spite of the previous arrangements”. Duda offered his own presidential residence as an alternative venue.

Netanyahu has sought to use the so-called Visegrad group as a counterweight to western European Union criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Alan Charlish in Warsaw, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by John Stonestreet, Mark Heinrich and Frances Kerry

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