No government in Poland’s post-communist history has had policies as pro-Israel and friendly towards the Jewish diaspora as the current one, former politician Czesław Bielecki, who identifies as a Polish Jew, has said.
But he added that if the government wants to stop the use of the “dubious phrase ‘Polish death camps’ … then doubts [raised regarding a proposed new law to penalise the use of the expression] need to be removed” from the bill.
Bielecki spoke to Polish Radio on Thursday amid tensions between Poland and Israel over a proposed law which could mean a jail term for anyone who accuses the Polish nation of being complicit in Nazi German crimes during World War II.
Poland opposes the use of the phrase “Polish death camps” because it implies the Polish state or nation’s involvement in running Nazi German camps in World War II.
Government spokeswoman Joanna Kopcińska has said: “There were no Polish death camps, no Polish concentration camps or Polish extermination camps. We must set the record straight by continually explaining and clarifying things.”
She added that Poles were victims, just like Jews, during World War II.
But commentators have said that Israel is concerned that the law could mean penalties for anyone who criticises any individual Pole’s role in the Holocaust.
Israeli ambassador to Poland Anna Azari said her country rejected the bill.
“In Israel, this bill is seen as creating a possibility of punishment for Holocaust survivors’ testimony. The emotions are running high”.
Bielecki said that the government needs to explain that the bill is “exclusively about the phrase” and urged some government officials to be more sensitive about how they word their statements on the issue.
He added that the implication that Polish individuals or small groups represented the Polish nation or state was “offensive to our dignity and honour”.
He also said that some Jews were involved in rounding up other Jews for transportation from the Warsaw ghetto to death camps.
He added: “If the tables were turned, and Poles were being hunted as the Jews were … would Jews help them better than the Poles helped the Jews” in World War II?
Bielecki said that Israel’s fierce opposition to the Polish reforms was “a game that is being played internally by [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu with the opposition in which they contend over … who of them will better defend the Jewish interest, even when that interest is not under threat”.
He added that Netanyahu was making a mistake because Poland under the current government is a good partner for Israel, a country “to which Jews repatriate often … this is where Israeli companies successfully and safely do business”.