Poland fans row with Israel over Holocaust bill

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki's comments on the Holocaust angered his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu

Poland's government had hoped the uproar over its new Holocaust bill would quickly die down, but by mentioning supposed "Jewish perpetrators" Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has reignited a row with Israel.

The head of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party government had tried to defend the law, which was meant to protect Poland from false accusations of complicity in the Holocaust.

On a visit to Munich on Saturday, he said there were "Jewish perpetrators" as well as Polish ones. That prompted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to telephone him to say the comments were "unacceptable" and tantamount to denying the Holocaust.

"It's tragic. Now a positive turn of events (in bilateral ties) is only possible in the longer term," Warsaw-based political scientist Stanislaw Mocek told AFP.

Mocek says the governing conservatives have "destroyed international relationships built over more than a quarter century" and "created a national identity by way of conflicts with everyone."

"After the whole German war reparations issue, now it's ties with Jews around the world."

Morawiecki's spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska said in a statement on Monday that the comments "were by no means intended to deny the Holocaust, or charge the Jewish victims of the Holocaust with responsibility for what was a Nazi German perpetrated genocide".

- Court to act -

The bill had been meant to defend Poland's image abroad by preventing people from erroneously describing Nazi German death camps as Polish. But instead it led to a row with Israel.

The Jewish state already saw the legislation as a bid to deny the participation of individual Poles in the extermination of Jews.

President Andrzej Duda has tasked Poland's Constitutional Court with verifying certain passages of the bill.

With tension rising over the law, speculation is also mounting that the court will alter the legislation.

Action by the court "is necessary to eliminate the doubts that have cropped up," Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said Monday on the private television station Polsat.

Morawiecki's remarks in Munich were "by all accounts a linguistic error", he said.

"There's nothing really for which to ask forgiveness... we need to explain it."

- Fuelling the flames -

Liberal newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza in a headline accused the prime minister of "political bungling".

He "should have been putting out the fire in Polish-Israeli ties but instead of using water, he used petrol," it said.

The daily, which is close to the opposition, questioned whether Morawiecki had been referring to one of various groups in the death camps and wartime ghettoes who were alleged to have had contact with the Germans.

"In such a delicate matter, he should have been precise and specified the crimes and the criminals," the newspaper said.

But the right-wing Catholic daily Nasz Dziennik said: "The prime minister told the truth."

"The collaboration between Jewish institutions and individual Jews with the Germans... is a fact known to Holocaust historians and researchers for many years," it said, citing Polish academics.

On the same visit to Germany, Morawiecki also angered Israeli media by becoming the first top Polish official to lay a wreath on the tombstones of Polish fighters from an ultra-right nationalist unit.

Mocek nevertheless gave Morawiecki the benefit of the doubt.

"I don't think those were premeditated remarks" in Munich, Mocek said.

"But then, he should have just said 'sorry' and not continued to dig himself into a deeper hole."