Israeli Cabinet minister condemns joint statement on Poland’s wartime record
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Israeli Cabinet minister condemns joint statement on Poland’s wartime record

Naftali Bennett speaking at a conference in Jerusalem, Nov. 18, 2015. (Miriam Alster /Flash90)

(JTA) — Israel’s education minister joined those criticizing Prime Minister Benajmin Netanyahu for signing a joint statement with his Polish counterpart meant to end the diplomatic spat over a Polish law that criminalized blaming Poland for Nazi crimes.

“As Education Minister, responsible for the educational legacy of the Holocaust, I reject the joint statement completely,” Naftali Bennett said in a statement Friday. “The declaration is void of any historical value, and nothing that it represents will be taught in our school system. I demand that the Prime Minister either withdraw his name from it, or bring it to the government for approval.”

Bennett said the joint statement was “a disgrace, full of lies and untruths, and a violation of the memories of the many Jews who were murdered by Poles.”

The declaration, signed June 27 by Netanyahu and Polish premier Mateusz Morawiecki, acknowledges collaboration by some Poles during the Holocaust and the rescue of Jews by others. It also states that during the Holocaust, “unfortunately, the sad fact is that some people – regardless of their origin, religion or worldview – revealed their darkest side.”

Yad Vashem, Israel’s main state museum and research body on the Holocaust, said Thursday that the joint statement contained “grave errors and deceptions.”

The declaration “contains highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field,” the Yad Vashem statement said.

The museum objected in particular to an assertion in the declaration that the wartime Polish government-in-exile and its underground arms worked hard in occupied Poland and elsewhere to thwart the extermination of Polish Jewry.

“Research has long since disproved” that assertion, according to Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem also asserted that much of the Polish resistance “not only failed to help the Jews, but was also not infrequently actively involved in persecuting them.”

The joint statement was meant to resolve tensions over a law passed in Poland that would have made it a crime to hold Poland responsible for crimes carried out under the Nazi occupation. Historians feared a whitewash of the historical truth in Poland, where Poles were both victims of and collaborators with the Nazis. Facing withering criticism from the United States and Israel, the Polish parliament under Morawiecki’s direction amended the law to soften its impact.

Netanyahu welcomed the amendment and appointed a team to quietly negotiate the joint statement. It said that Poland and Israel “reject the actions aimed at blaming Poland or the Polish nation as a whole for the atrocities committed by the Nazis and their collaborators of different nations” before the mention of the “darkest side.”

Both Israel and Poland, the statement continued, “vehemently condemn all forms of anti-Semitism and express their commitment to oppose any of its manifestations. Both governments also express their rejection of anti-Polonism and other negative national stereotypes.”

But Yad Vashem was unmoved by the amendment, saying that despite the changes, the law’s “essence” was the same and could undermine “the historical memory of the Holocaust.

Opposition members — including Knesset member Tzipi Livni of the Zionist Camp and Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid — joined Bennett in criticizing Netanyahu for the declaration.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Netanyahu’s team said Dina Porat, Yad Vashem’s chief historian, approved of the joint statement “from its inception.”

The Times of Israel, however, reported that while Porat was involved in the negotiations over the statement, she did not see the final draft  until it was released.