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Israel recalls envoy to protest signing of Poland’s anti-restitution law

CM 14/08/2021 2

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Israel recalled its envoy from Poland to protest a new law that limits the ability of Jews to recover property seized by Nazis during the Holocaust and retained by post-war communist rulers.
“Poland today approved – not for the first time – an immoral, antisemitic law,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in video message he issued on Saturday night.
“This evening I instructed the charge d’affaires at our embassy in Warsaw [Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon] to return immediately to Israel for consultations, for an indefinite period of time,” Lapid said.
The newly appointed ambassador to Poland, Yacov Livne, has been asked to remain in Israel “for the time being.”

In addition, Lapid asked Poland’s Ambassador Marek Magierowski, who is out of the country, not to return.
“He should use the time he has on his hands to explain to the Poles what the Holocaust means to Israel’s citizens and the extent to which we will not tolerate contempt for the memory of those who perished and for the memory of the Holocaust. It will not stop here,” Lapid said.
The two countries had hoped that Polish President Andrzej Duda would refrain from signing the controversial bill into law and had worked to prevent such a move.
Their efforts, however, were in vain.
On Saturday Duda said, “I made a decision today on the act, which in recent months was the subject of a lively and loud debate at home and abroad.” He added that, “after an in-depth analysis, I have decided to sign the amendment.”
It was a move that deepened the crisis between the two countries, further straining what had once been a strong relationship. Until this crisis Poland had been a staunch ally to Israel within the European Union.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “this is a grave step that Israel cannot remain indifferent to.
“Israel views with utmost gravity approval of the law that prevents Jews from receiving compensation for property that was stolen from them during the Holocaust, and regrets the fact that Poland has chosen to continue harming those who have lost everything.
“This is a shameful decision and disgraceful contempt for the memory of the Holocaust,” Bennett added.
Before World War II, Poland had been home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities, but it was almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis and Jewish former property owners and their descendants have been campaigning for compensation.
Up to now, Jewish expatriates or their descendants could make a claim that a property had been seized illegally and demand its return, but Polish officials argued this was causing uncertainty over property ownership.
In 2015, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled there should be specific deadlines after which administrative decisions over property titles could no longer be challenged. Changes to the law were adopted by the Polish parliament earlier this week.
The bill sets a 30-year limit for restitution claims.
The issue of Jewish property rights in Poland is further complicated because, unlike other EU states, it has not created a fund to give compensation to people whose property was seized.A State Department spokesperson on Saturday said only that, “we are aware of the recent legislation being signed into law in Poland.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday said Washington was deeply concerned that the Polish parliament had passed the bill, and urged Duda not to sign it into law.
Washington is one of Warsaw’s most important allies, but relations between the two countries have been strained by the property issue, as well as other issues such as plans to introduce changes that the opposition says aim to silence a US-owned news channel critical of the government.
World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) on Saturday urged the Polish government to work on resolving the issue of property seized in the past.
“Democracy & justice hits new low in Poland, as President Duda signs a law making it virtually impossible for all former Polish property owners to secure redress for property illegally seized during the Communist era,” Gideon Taylor, chair of operations of the WJRO said in a statement sent to Reuters.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said “as the son of Holocaust survivors, I am deeply disturbed by the law passed in Poland that effectively prevents justice from the victims of the Holocaust and their families.
“Property restitution is a small yet significant part of the process to fulfill the rights of those who have survived and to acknowledge those who have perished in one of the world’s biggest genocides. I call on my international partners to condemn this move in one voice,” Gantz said.
Poland established ties with Israel in 1948 but severed them in the aftermath of the Six Day War in 1967. It reestablished those ties in 1990 after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Omri Nahmias contributed to this report 


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