Quar­rel over Holo­caust his­tory sinks Is­raeli sum­mit

Poland and Czech Repub­lic en­raged at re­marks by Ne­tanyahu and for­eign min­is­ter.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Noga Tarnopol­sky Tarnopol­sky is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

JERUSALEM — Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s wa­ger that he could ce­ment his sta­tus as a mas­ter diplo­mat by al­ly­ing him­self with a coali­tion of right-wing Cen­tral Euro­pean coun­tries un­rav­eled Mon­day when the Pol­ish and Czech gov­ern­ments pulled out of a Jerusalem sum­mit af­ter a row over Holo­caust his­tory.

Ne­tanyahu’s gam­bit was in­tended to give him lever­age against the ma­jor­ity of Euro­pean Union states that op­pose Is­rael’s poli­cies to­ward Pales­tini­ans and to high­light his close as­so­ci­a­tion with Pres­i­dent Trump, who has been crit­i­cal of the EU and friendly to rightlean­ing Euro­pean states.

But com­ments by Ne­tanyahu and his act­ing for­eign min­is­ter prompted the col­lapse of a sum­mit planned in Jerusalem with mem­bers of the Viseg­rad Group, a coali­tion of Poland, the Czech Repub­lic, Hun­gary and Slo­vakia. The Jerusalem sum­mit, set to be­gin Tues­day, was the first of the group’s an­nual meet­ings to be planned in a non-Euro­pean coun­try.

The can­cel­la­tion was a sting­ing de­feat for Ne­tanyahu, who faces re­elec­tion in April and has staked much of his pres­tige on his suc­cess in, as he puts it, “ex­pand­ing Is­rael’s diplo­matic hori­zons.”

Ne­tanyahu had al­ready stirred con­tro­versy dur­ing a U.S.-spon­sored con­fer­ence on Mid­dle East se­cu­rity that was held in War­saw last week. He was quoted telling Is­raeli re­porters cov­er­ing the War­saw sum­mit that “the Poles co­op­er­ated with the Ger­mans” dur­ing the Holo­caust.

His of­fice sub­se­quently mod­i­fied the state­ment by re­mov­ing a sin­gle word — “the” — to re­move the im­pli­ca­tion that all Poles were com­plicit. But the re­vised state­ment that “Poles co­op­er­ated with the Ger­mans” still caused an up­roar in Poland, where a 2017 law crim­i­nal­izes as­ser­tions of Pol­ish col­lab­o­ra­tion with Nazis dur­ing World War II with sen­tences of up to three years in jail.

In re­sponse, Poland down­graded its rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the Viseg­rad event in Jerusalem, an­nounc­ing that For­eign Min­is­ter Jacek Cza­putow­icz would re­place Prime Min­is­ter Ma­teusz Mo­raw­iecki at the meet­ing. But Mo­raw­iecki pulled out com­pletely af­ter Is­rael’s in­terim for­eign min­is­ter, Yis­rael Katz, re­fused to clar­ify his state­ment that “Pol­ish peo­ple col­lab­o­rated with the Nazis” and that “the Poles were breast­fed anti-Semitism by their moth­ers.”

The breast­feed­ing re­mark was a quo­ta­tion from for­mer Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Yitzhak Shamir, whose fam­ily was killed dur­ing the Holo­caust.

Af­ter Poland pulled out, Czech Prime Min­is­ter An­drej Babis an­nounced his coun­try’s with­drawal from the Jerusalem sum­mit as well.

Is­raeli For­eign Min­istry spokesman Em­manuel Nahshon said that bi­lat­eral meet­ings be­tween Ne­tanyahu and the Czech, Slo­vak and Hun­gar­ian lead­ers were still sched­uled.

And Ne­tanyahu, speak­ing in Jerusalem on Mon­day af­ter­noon to lead­ers of the Con­fer­ence of Ma­jor Amer­i­can Jew­ish Or­ga­ni­za­tions, called the War­saw meet­ing “some­thing spec­tac­u­lar” and made no men­tion of the can­celed Jerusalem sum­mit.

But the col­lapse was an em­bar­rass­ing set­back for Ne­tanyahu, as well as a blow to the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, which lo­cated last week’s Mid­dle East se­cu­rity con­fer­ence in War­saw to un­der­score a re­align­ment of na­tions op­pos­ing the 2015 Iran nu­clear deal.

It is not the first time Ne­tanyahu’s ac­qui­es­cence to the ris­ing wave of Holo­caust re­vi­sion­ism in Cen­tral Europe has clashed with do­mes­tic pol­i­tics in Is­rael, where a sub­stan­tial pro­por­tion of the pop­u­la­tion de­scends from sur­vivors of Nazi per­se­cu­tion.

Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vik­tor Or­ban, whom Ne­tanyahu lavishly wel­comed in Jerusalem last July, is an ad­mirer of Mik­los Hor­thy, the Hun­gar­ian leader who col­lab­o­rated with Nazi Ger­many to de­port al­most all of Hun­gar­ian Jewry to con­cen­tra­tion camps.

About the same time as the Or­ban meet­ing, Ne­tanyahu at­tempted to smooth over differences with Mo­raw­iecki by is­su­ing a joint state­ment clar­i­fy­ing Poland’s World War II sta­tus as a na­tion un­der the yoke of Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion. That state­ment was slammed by Holo­caust his­to­ri­ans and Is­raeli politi­cians.

Daniel Shapiro, the for­mer U.S. am­bas­sador to Is­rael, said that while “it is per­fectly valid for Is­rael to seek pro­duc­tive re­la­tions with na­tions of all kinds,” there is an in­her­ent ten­sion be­tween “who you can work with and who you iden­tify with.”

“Is­rael has al­ways iden­ti­fied with the camp of democ­ra­cies and, of course, it has been faith­ful to the mem­ory of Jew­ish peo­ple, so that makes it hard to form last­ing part­ner­ships with au­to­cratic gov­ern­ments that en­gage in Holo­caust de­nial, and we’re see­ing that ten­sion play out,” he said.

Radek Pi­etruszka EPA/Shut­ter­stock

POLAND’S Ma­teusz Mo­raw­iecki with­drew from a Jerusalem sum­mit planned with a coali­tion com­posed of Poland, the Czech Repub­lic, Hun­gary and Slo­vakia.

S. Scheiner AFP/Getty Images

YIS­RAEL KATZ said “Pol­ish peo­ple col­lab­o­rated with the Nazis.”

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