After Israeli TV report, government spokesperson says law to come into force as planned, but confirms Warsaw sending team to Jerusalem for discussions

Jewish inmates of the Lodz ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland at labor making baskets (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Poland on Sunday reportedly denied an Israeli media claim that it would freeze its controversial new Holocaust law amid a dispute with Jerusalem, but confirmed that an official Polish government delegation would fly to Israel in the next few days to discuss the matter with an Israeli team.

Hadashot news on Saturday said that, in the wake of pressure and protests from Israel over the legislation, Poland’s Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro had stated that the law will not be implemented “at this stage.”
It said a Polish delegation was due in Israel within days to instead try to hammer out an agreed text of the legislation, which has passed Poland’s parliament and been signed by its president but not implemented to date.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry director-general Yuval Rotem called the development “an achievement” for Israel, the TV report said, following considerable discussion of the law between Warsaw and Jerusalem in recent weeks.

However, the Polish government’s spokeswoman, Joanna Kopczynska, rejected the report on Sunday and said the law would come into force as planned on March 1, Channel 10 reported.

“There is indeed a good chance for a meeting between a Polish team and an Israeli team to discuss the issue, but a date for that hasn’t been set,” Kopczynska said, adding that the Polish team had already been established.

Poland’s justice ministry spokesman, Jan Kanthak, also responded to “media reports” about the Holocaust law, writing on Twitter that “any law passed by the parliament and signed by the president becomes a law that comes into force according to the date mentioned in it.”

Poland’s president on February 6 signed the controversial legislation, which outlaws blaming Poland as a nation for Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany.

President Andrzej Duda’s office confirmed he had signed over protests from Israel, the US, and the Jewish world. But Duda also said he would also ask Poland’s constitutional court to evaluate the bill — leaving open the possibility it would be amended.

The legislation, proposed by Poland’s conservative ruling party, has sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

As currently written, the legislation calls for prison terms of up to three years for attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany to the Polish state or nation. The bill would also set fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone who refers to Nazi German death camps as Polish.

“Israel noted the fact that the Polish president referred the law to the Constitutional Court for clarifications on the matter, and hopes that in the period before the verdict is, it will be possible to agree on changes and amendments to the law,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement at the time it was signed. “Israel and Poland have a common responsibility to investigate and preserve the history of the Holocaust.”

There have been reports for days that Poland was offering to send an official delegation to Israel to hammer out agreed-upon amendments to the law. The delegation could reportedly include Poland’s deputy foreign minister and the legal adviser of the prime minister.

Last Saturday, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki exacerbated the crisis over the law by declaring that, alongside Poles, “Jewish perpetrators” also bore responsibility for the Holocaust.

Addressing the Munich Security Conference, Morawiecki was rejecting criticism of the new law when he was asked by an Israeli journalist if sharing his family’s history of persecution in Poland would be outlawed under the new legislation. “Of course it’s not going to be punishable, [it’s] not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian; not only German perpetrators,” Morawiecki told Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ronen Bergman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Morawiecki the next day, and told Morawiecki that Israel did not accept the statement. “I told him there’s no basis for this comparison, between the act of Poles and the acts of Jews during the Holocaust,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters following a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Responding to calls for Israel to recall its ambassador in Poland to Israel, the prime minister said last week the government was trying to resolve the issue without taking such a dramatic measure, but “all options are on the table.”