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article imageIsrael says hopes for changes to Polish Holocaust law

By Stephen Weizman (AFP)     Feb 6, 2018 in World

Israel said Tuesday it still hoped for amendments to a controversial Holocaust bill signed into law earlier in the day by Polish President Andrzej Duda.

The legislation sets fines or a maximum three-year jail term for anyone describing Nazi German death camps in Poland, like Auschwitz-Birkenau, as Polish.

It would also make it a crime to accuse the Polish state of complicity in the Holocaust.

Duda said the legislation, which has ignited tensions with Israel, the United States and Ukraine, would be sent to Poland's Constitutional Tribunal to rule on whether it conforms to guarantees on freedom of speech.

Poland's President Andrzej Duda gives a press conference on February 6  2018 in Warsaw to annou...
Poland's President Andrzej Duda gives a press conference on February 6, 2018 in Warsaw to announce he will sign the controversial Holocaust bill into law
JANEK SKARZYNSKI, AFP

Israel's foreign ministry said it noted that fact and hoped "clarifications and amendments" would be forthcoming.

"We hope that within the allotted time until the court's deliberations are concluded, we will manage to agree on changes and corrections," it said in a statement.

"Israel continues to communicate with the Polish authorities and has expressed its reservations regarding the new Polish law," the statement said, in language milder than some comments from Israeli politicians in recent days.

Israel has expressed concern that the law could see Holocaust survivors prosecuted for testimonies that include allegations that individual Poles killed Jews or gave them up to the Nazi authorities.

Jerusalem's Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial said Tuesday's signing of the bill was "very regrettable."

"Yad Vashem has repeatedly warned of faults in its formulation," it said.

It specifically mentioned "restrictions on various expressions concerning the participation of the Polish population in the crimes committed on their soil during the Holocaust."

Protesters hold banners reading "stop facism" and "my fatherland is humanity" du...
Protesters hold banners reading "stop facism" and "my fatherland is humanity" during a demonstration against a controversial new Polish bill regarding the Holocaust on February 5, 2018, outside the presidential palace in Warsaw
JANEK SKARZYNSKI, AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared last week that "we have no tolerance for the distortion of the truth and rewriting history or denying the Holocaust".

He did not immediately comment on Tuesday's signing of the law.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Monday that Polish authorities had cancelled his forthcoming visit to Warsaw over the dispute.

"The government of Poland cancelled my visit because I mentioned the crimes of its people. I am honoured," he wrote in a statement.

- 'Strong remarks' -

However, the From the Depths NGO, which works in the field of Holocaust education and organised the Warsaw event, said it had cancelled Bennett's participation, not the government.

"The Polish government did not cancel his trip," founder Jonny Daniels told AFP on Tuesday.

"One of the main points of bringing the minister of education of Israel was to have a dialogue and to come to an understanding between our two countries," he said.

But he said he had decided to revoke Bennett's invitation after the minister's "pretty strong remarks" to members of his party on Monday.

A spokesman had quoted Bennett as saying that while there were thousands of Poles who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis, there were too many who actively participated in "degrading and killing Jews."

"We thought it against the interest of calming the situation down," Daniels said. "We decided to postpone the trip."

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