Israel embarrassed by its Holocaust-denying allies in Poland

Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, pictured with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a January 2017 visit to Jerusalem, is “flabbergasted” at Israel’s reaction to a new law restricting speech about the role Poles played in the Holocaust. (via Facebook)

A crisis is brewing between Warsaw and Tel Aviv over a new Polish law criminalizing mention of the role some Poles played in the German genocide of Jews during World War II.

The law passed in the lower house and is expected to pass in the senate and be signed by the president before it takes effect.

From Israel’s perspective, the problem is how to appear sufficiently upset in order to maintain the self-declared Jewish state’s self-appointed role as the guardian of the memory of the millions murdered.

It’s an awkward balancing act since in the 21st century, anti-Semites and even some Holocaust deniers are among Israel’s closest and most fervent allies.

“Alarming parallels”

Over the last year, Israel has kept a low profile whenever its anti-Semitic friends have shown their true colors.

A year ago, when the Trump White’s House’s Holocaust Remembrance Day message omitted any mention of Jews, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained silent even as American Jewish organizations and – implicitly – the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum voiced sharp criticism.

Months into the new administration, the Anne Frank Center warned of “alarming parallels” between history and the present day United States.

Just days later, on 11 and 12 August, torch-bearing Nazis marched in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us,” before one of their number allegedly carried out a vehicular attack killing anti-racism activist Heather Heyer.

Trump received blistering criticism for his lackluster response that seemed to give a wink to the far-right extremists. But on that occasion too, Israeli leaders maintained a conspicuous silence.

Netanyahu also tightened his embrace of Viktor Orban, the far-right pro-Israel prime minister of Hungary who lionizes Hitler ally Miklos Horthy, the man who sent hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to their deaths.

And lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud Party have given a warm embrace to neo-Nazis who surged in elections in Germany and Austria – because those far-right extremists now offer solid support to Israel.

Nazi genocide in Poland

Now comes the situation with Poland – another country whose far-right nationalist government is closely allied with Israel.

The official Polish view enshrined in the new law is that Poland and its people – Jewish and non-Jewish – should be viewed entirely and only as victims of the Nazi occupation regime.

And there is no doubt that they were victims. In a statement criticizing the Polish law, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum recalls that from 1939-45, “approximately three million Jews – 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population – had been murdered in mass shootings and at stationary killing centers in occupied Poland, Auschwitz-Birkenau being the most well known.”

It also notes that “many Poles risked their lives to save their Jewish neighbors.”

At the same time as the extermination of the country’s Jewish population was going on, the museum explains, some “two million non-Jewish Polish civilians – including tens of thousands of Catholic priests, intellectuals, teachers and political leaders – were killed by the Germans and millions more were imprisoned and subjected to forced labor. Over 1.5 million Poles were deported as forced laborers.”

Yet a full accounting of history, according to the museum, requires discussion and research into the fact that as “German forces implemented the mass murder of Jews, they drew upon some Polish agencies, such as Polish police forces and railroad personnel, in the guarding of ghettos and the deportation of Jews to the killing centers.”

Moreover, individual Poles “often helped in the identification, denunciation and hunting down of Jews in hiding, often profiting from associated blackmail, and actively participated in the plunder of Jewish property.” And notoriously, the museum recalls, in July 1941, Polish residents of the town of Jedwabne “participated in the murder of hundreds of their Jewish neighbors.”

The Polish law’s attempt to criminalize even discussion of these facts is simply too embarrassing for Israel to remain silent. So Israel’s ambassador went to meet with a top Polish official to express her government’s displeasure.

According to The Times of Israel, the ambassador “reiterated Israel’s concern that the legislation violates freedom of speech and would limit the discourse surrounding the Holocaust in Poland and its victims.”

Nakba denial

It takes considerable chutzpah for Israel to give lectures on “freedom of speech” when it has been busy cracking down on human rights defenders who criticize its crimes against Palestinians.

And, Israel – like Poland – also builds its modern national myth on the denial of history.

As Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who sits in Israel’s parliament, writes for +972 Magazine, Israel has for several years had legislation restricting commemoration of the Nakba, the well-planned ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 and afterwards by Zionist militias and the Israeli state.

“Isn’t the Nakba Law also an attempt to rewrite history? To hide and deny certain parts of it?” Zoabi asks. “It is true that the Nakba Law does not – yet – criminalize individuals. But in its essence, it is a law that seeks to silence, just as the Polish law does, and allows the effective denial of the Palestinian catastrophe.”

“As a Palestinian, I feel a kinship with the victims of the Holocaust,” Zoabi says, “I am angry at all those who continue to murder and remain silent, those who force others to remain silent.”

Polish surprise

Another person expressing anger – albeit from a different direction – is Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who was reportedly “flabbergasted” by Israel’s “violent and very unfavorable reaction” to the new law that he supports.

Duda’s surprise is perhaps understandable, since Israel and its lobby groups cannot claim they didn’t know about the Polish leadership’s Holocaust revisionist tendencies even as they cozied up to them.

In a leaked briefing paper obtained by The Electronic Intifada in December, the European Leadership Network, a pro-Israel lobby group, reported that assurances were recently given by Polish officials that Israel “can count” on Poland during Warsaw’s two-year term on the UN Security Council that began on 1 January.

“Israel looks to Poland as one of the friendliest countries in the European Union,” the briefing paper states.

The lobby group went so far as to allege that Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party is “in denial” over how Polish citizens were involved in murders of Jews during the Holocaust, something it is prepared to overlook because of the party’s pro-Israel stance.

But Israeli leaders don’t have to rely on their Brussels lobbyists to tell them this. In recent months, Israeli officials themselves spoke at a conference hosted by an anti-Semitic and Islamophobic Polish group aimed at whitewashing Poles’ role in the murder of Jews.

In the Israeli publication Ynet, commentator Sever Plocker expressed his consternation and outrage at the “participation of a minister and a Knesset member from Israel in a conference aimed at distorting the memory of the Holocaust and legitimizing Poland’s racist-nationalist (and anti-Semitic, despite all its denials) right.”

Old alliance renewed

The alliance of Zionism with anti-Semites, first with anti-Semitic Protestant Christian Zionists and later with the Nazis, was foundational to the movement – despite Israel’s claim that it represents the very antithesis of anti-Semitism.

That old alliance has found new life as Israel’s most extreme supporters embrace white supremacists and anti-Semites tied to the Trump administration and regressive nationalists in Europe.

It is an alliance reinvigorated by a shared hatred of Muslims, who have superficially replaced Jews as an acceptable target for the kind of scapegoating and vilification that was supposed, in the wake of the Holocaust, to have ended in Europe.

Understanding this is essential to understanding why Israel today is at the vanguard of the global far-right, the model for authoritarian states and the guiding light and alibi for ethno-nationalists and racists.

That is why in the struggle against all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, Jews and Palestinians committed to equality and human rights stand together on one side, while Israel, Zionists and their bigoted cheerleaders are on the other side.




As a Polish woman that feels sympathy towards both persecuted Jews in the Holocaust and Palestinians now while simultaneously condemning Polish and Israeli politics I can't thank you enough for putting my thoughts into words. Unfortunately the situation in Poland is getting worse and I cannot live there anymore. I hope it will change in the future.


Joanna, what are you talking about? Situation in Poland is the same as it was 5 or 10 years ago. Yes, we do have shitty politicians but don't exaggerate its something hardcore :O


Monica, unfortunately it is not so safe as it used to be if you look just a little different. My colleague was attacked and he visited only for the weekend. My husband doesn't want to think about moving to Poland with me because his friend studying in Warsaw is being harassed daily. 9 out of 21 Indian students attacked worldwide last year were attacked in Poland. It wasn't like this before.


I feel sorry something like that happened and is still happening. It looks like righ-wing government victory in the voting makes extremist racists bastards think they can harass innocent people. Are these people ok? Police still works and the country is not racist. I did not vote for this government and I won't but they are just simply nationalistic. They at least create themselves to look like patriots and I can say for sure they're not facists, maybe very conservative Catholics. I do not know. Maybe it's government's fault, they do things to look good if something happens after the fact but they do not show themselves to be tollerant towards homosexuals and foreigners. Poland did not grow up enough to be nationalists in a good sense. They act good but they trigger racist extremists with them and do not do anything about them.

Just of curiosity, where are you from? Maybe you're right, it's not the best time to move to Poland, especially if you have darker skin or if you can look Arabic to racist idiots. But please reconsider this in few years maybe. I hope it will be more friendly here then.


Poland cannot deny Holocaust as is written in the title. In Poland for denying Holocaust you go to jail for 3 years. Poland cannot be jailed for 3 years. It would disastrous for economy and Poland also don't have so many prisons. Even now these are overpopulated.


Since so called "Law and Justice" (PiS) Party came to power, Poland's constantly drifting toward dictatorship, antisemitism, national-socialism. These people use the same methods NSDAP did in Germany: Dominated Judiciary of Poland by political apparatchiks, ignoring the Constitution, persecute opossition and protesters, protecting far-right fanatics.

It's about time for international community to do something about it.
That all hate against Jews is just a consequence of mentioned things.

Last but not least, there are many people in Poland open-minded, normal, living regular joyfull life free from hate to others, but now they are dominated by the bad guys.


Bob, Could You provide source of your information regarding "Dominated Judiciary of Poland by political apparatchiks,ignoring the Constitution, persecute opposition and protesters, protecting far-right fanatics." ?


There's something in it. Why the government won't say openly "we do not want to have anything in common with far-right racist extremists. You are not our voters, we do not support you. Intollerance will not be accepted in Poland". The government is not racist but their behaving let far-right behave like they had some acceptance from the society and the government. I believe they want to make many things better like reforming Judiciary system but it look like they do not know what exactly they want to do. There's always something wrong in deep with their bills. From the outside they look very good but when you look inside many people think "damn, it shouldn't be done like that. It's wrong". They look as they acted good but in fact they do not know what they're doing. The same with this bill about ascribing Nazis' atrocities to Polish. For me it's ok, I think that this bill is right, but why did they chose such an unfortunate date? It looks like they're not playing chess but checkers. With such a sensitive issues you don't go screaming "we are not responsible" but discuss it for a very long time. What's the difference if this bill would be a little changed or would be passed next year. Now we are in a very uncomfortable position because of this Slavic soul. International politics shouldn't work like that but rather as gentleman diplomat, slowly and with some plan. And this government's plan is to first do and think later.


Kenji_t, I will ask You the same question. Please provide source of information based on which You are making such statement’s. As for "sensitive issues" let me tell You this. Poland was one the of the most devastated countries during WWII by Germans and by Russians in terms of population, infrastructure etc. Poland lost over 6 million of its citizens. And yet same interest groups are trying to present Poles as responsible as Germans for Holocaust. During WWII Poland was under German and soviet occupation. From 1939 to 1945 there was no polish State! Thus, occupying powers are solely responsible for what happened then on polish territory. There was no such thing as "polish concentration camps" there were German build and managed dead camps. Purposely use term "polish camps" imply some form of polish involvement. There was none. Yet there is still campaign of shifting responsibility of what happened during WWII to Poles. What is interesting the same interest’s groups are demanding 65 billion reparations from Poland! Painting polish nation as guilty of de facto German crimes is simply put necessary to accomplish this goal. You are guilty so you have to pay. So yes, you go now and scream enough is enough. Especially now when Bill S.447 is debated in US Congress.


There's also no law which would penalize a person if he attacks someone who is homosexual. There's such a law about religion and rascism but if a homosexual is beaten it's just like a normal battery. The attacker will not be sentenced because of homophobia but because of normal assault.

Most of the right-wing news websites in Poland shows only information about incidents of racism in the West what reminds me of Jesus: "And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?". Of course it's ok that they write about racistic incidents in the West, especially that there is more of these there, but for objectivism they should also write about such incidents in Poland. I know there's not a lot of them but these unfortunately happens, no one's pure.

I just think that when right-wing government rules the country it should focus even more on fighting with racism because people who are far-right think they have government's support when they are being racist.

I agree that using "Polish Death Camps" is completely stupid and detrimental. For me there's no way that Poland would pay anything, Poland is not responsible. Even taking into account extreme number from Grabowski of 200 000 Jews killed by Polish citizens (few thousands probably) it's still Germany's responsibility. But on the other hand Poland will have to someday purge itself and apologize for these Polish citizens, how many, we don't know, that's why historians should investigate this and I hope this bill won't make it impossible or more difficult.