The Polish president has said he will sign into a law a bill making it illegal to blame Poland for crimes committed by Nazis, despite protests from Israel and accusations that Warsaw was trying to airbrush war crimes against Jews.
In a televised address on Tuesday Andrzej Duda announced he would put his signature to the legislation that also makes it a criminal offence, punishable with up to three years in prison, for describing Nazi concentration and death camps as “Polish”.
“The historical truth is that Poles did not participate in the Holocaust in an institutionalised or systematic way,” said Mr Duda during his speech, adding that any accusations that they had done so caused pain to Poles.
Controversy over the law has sent Israel-Poland relations nosediving, owing to Israeli fears the Polish government was trying to deny cases of Poles betraying Jews to the Nazis, murdering them or even instigating massacres.
In an apparent attempt to appease Israeli anger, Mr Duda did say he would refer the law to the country’s constitutional tribunal to make sure it complies with the Polish constitution. The tribunal has the power to ask for changes to the law, although the Polish press speculated it may refrain from doing so because of the influence Law and Justice, Poland’s governing party, has over it.
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The president also stressed that he respected Israel’s feelings about the issue, and that he wanted Israeli-Polish relations to strengthen.
“Building a good relationship between Poland and Israel is very important for me,” he said. “We [Poles and Jews] have lived for a thousand years in the same state. That is our history.”
In response, the Israeli foreign ministry tweeted that it “continues to communicate with the Polish authorities and has expressed its reservations regarding the new law.” It also said it hoped “we will manage to agree on changes and corrections”.
In an indication of Israeli fury over the law, on Monday Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, said he was “honoured” that the Polish government cancelled a planned visit to Poland, adding that the “blood of Polish Jews cries out from the ground, and no law will silence it".
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, said last week the law was an attempt to re-write history.