Israel recalled its top diplomat from Warsaw on Saturday and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid slammed Poland as an “anti-democratic and illiberal country that does not honor the greatest tragedy in human history” after Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a controversial law to restrict reparations for Holocaust victims.
The law, adopted by parliament on Wednesday, amended existing legislation and imposed a 30-year time limit on legal challenges to restitution claims and ending outstanding claims for the return of seized property that have not reached a final decision in the last 30 years — effectively cutting off many cases.
“Today, Poland approved – not for the first time – an antisemitic and unethical law,” Lapid said in a scathing statement on Saturday evening, adding: “Tonight, Poland has become an anti-democratic and illiberal country that does not honor the greatest tragedy in human history. We must never remain silent. Israel and the Jewish people will certainly not remain silent.”
The United States also opposes the new restitution law, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken had urged Duda not to sign it. But Duda ignored Washington’s entreaty. Lapid warned that Israel was working with the U.S. to coordinate its response.
Duda in a statement explaining his decision acknowledged the “lively and loud debate at home and abroad” that surrounded the law, but insisted he had taken the correct step. Duda alleged that under Poland’s existing law, false claims “often” led to innocent Poles losing their property and “criminal groups became rich at the cost of tens of thousands of people thrown onto the pavement.”
“I am convinced that with my signature the era of legal chaos ends, the era of re-privatization mafias, the uncertainty of millions of Poles and the lack of respect for the basic rights of citizens of our country,” Duda said. “I believe in a state that protects its citizens against injustice.”
Lapid said that in response to Duda’s action, he had instructed Israel’s top diplomat in Warsaw to return home immediately for “indefinite consultations” and that a new ambassador “who was due to leave for Warsaw soon, will not be departing for Poland at this stage.” He also said that Poland’s ambassador, Marek Magierowski, should stay on vacation and not return to Tel Aviv.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will recommend today that the Polish Ambassador to Israel remain on holiday in his country,” Lapid said. “This time should be used to explain to the people of Poland the meaning of the Holocaust to the citizens of Israel, and the extent to which we will refuse to tolerate any contempt for the memory of [the] Holocaust and its victims. It will not end here. We are holding discussions with the Americans to coordinate our future response.”
The diplomatic row over the restitution law is just the latest bad turn in Poland’s external relations. The restitution amendment was passed in the same chaotic parliamentary session on Wednesday as a bill aimed at limiting foreign ownership of Polish media, which Washington has also criticized. Poland also remains in a long-running battle with Brussels over alleged violations of fundamental principles of rule of law and democracy.
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