Israel denies Benjamin Netanyahu’s Holocaust comment in Poland

[FILE] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech before lighting a stylised-menorah during the start of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, in Ramat Gan in the suburbs of the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv on December 2, 2018. – Israeli police on December 2 recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara for bribery and other offences, the third such move against the premier in recent months. Netanyahu immediately rejected the accusations, but the three cases against him have led to speculation that they could eventually force the long-serving prime minister to step down. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Israel has denied reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implicated Poles in the Holocaust during World War II, in an incident that threatened to spark another major spat between the two countries.

Poland’s foreign ministry on Friday summoned Israel’s ambassador after a Jerusalem Post report quoted Netanyahu as saying that “Poles cooperated with the Germans” in the killing of the Jews. The Haaretz newspaper later also ran the story.

The Israeli leader was speaking on Thursday at a memorial for the Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto, which he visited with US Vice President Mike Pence and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki after a two-day US-led Middle East conference.

Before being summoned, Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari said the prime minister was misquoted by the newspaper.

“I was present during the prime minister’s briefing and he didn’t say that the Polish nation collaborated with the Nazis, he only said that no person was sued for speaking about those Poles who did cooperate with them,” Azari said in a Friday statement sent to Polish authorities.

Netanyahu also sought to defuse the potential crisis.

“The Prime Minister’s comments concerning Poland were misquoted by the Jerusalem Post, which quickly issued a correction clarifying that an error had been made in the editing of the article,” his office said in a corresponding statement.

Polish officials later indicated they were satisfied with Azari’s explanation at the foreign ministry.

‘Media manipulation’

The incident sparked controversy in Poland and even threatened to undermine a summit due next week in Israel between Netanyahu and four central European counterparts.

Prior to Azari’s statement, Polish President Andrzej Duda had suggested that the Visegrad Group summit of four central European EU members and Israel could be reconsidered.

A Duda spokesman later confirmed that the meeting would go ahead, adding that the controversy had resulted from “harmful media manipulation”.

The Holocaust is an extremely sensitive issue in Poland, even 80 years after World War II.

Nazi Germany subjected the country to a brutal occupation, killing nearly six million citizens, about three million of them Jewish, but almost as many of them Christian Poles.

Warsaw has long been at pains to point out that Poland could not have and did not collaborate in the Holocaust although individual Poles may have done so.

This latest controversy in Polish-Israeli ties comes after last year’s row over a Polish law that made it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in Nazi German crimes.

The bill has not denied the Holocaust but rejects the phrase “Polish death camps”.

After protests from Israel and the US, Poland amended the law to remove the possibility of fines or a prison sentence.

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