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Israel, US coordinating response to Polish anti-restitution law

CM 12/08/2021

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Israel and the US are formulating a joint response to Polish legislation that would severely restrict the possibility for Holocaust survivors and their families to obtain restitution for confiscated property.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have been holding “intensive discussions” on how to respond to the newly-passed bill, which “borders on Holocaust denial,” the Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
“We will not less this pass quietly,” Lapid said. “The Poles cannot continue harming the memory of those who perished.”
On Wednesday night, Lapid said that “the State of Israel will not compromise on one comma in the memory of the Holocaust…I will continue to stand up against any attempt to rewrite history and promote compromises and concessions at the expense of the genocide of the Jewish People and the rights of victims of the Holocaust.

“Poland knows what is the right thing to do – to cancel the law,” he stated.
Blinken said the US is “deeply concerned” about the bill, hours after it passed.
“We urge that [Polish] President [Andrzej] Duda not sign the bill into law or that, in line with the authority granted to him as President, he refer the bill to Poland’s constitutional tribunal,” Blinken said. Duda has 21 days from the legislation’s approval to sign it into law or veto it. 
Blinken called for a comprehensive law for resolving confiscated property claims, to provide some measure of justice for victims.
“Such a law would benefit many Polish citizens, as well as people who were forced to leave Poland during and after World War II and who subsequently became naturalized citizens of other countries,” he continued. “Until such a law is enacted, the pathway to compensation should not be closed for new claims or those pending decisions in administrative courts.”
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Polish Communist authorities enacted a massive program of property confiscation across the country, which included large amounts of property previously belonging to Poland’s pre-war Jewish population of some three million people, 90% of whom were murdered by the Nazis.
Much of this property confiscation was carried out in accordance with laws enacted by the Communist regime, but some was done outside the framework of those laws, leaving room for the original owners, or their heirs, to reclaim the property through the Polish courts.
The new law would make it impossible for a court to invalidate a confiscation if 10 years have passed since that confiscation was carried out.
In addition, the new law would make it impossible to even begin proceedings in court to reclaim property if 30 years have passed since the property was confiscated.
Finally, if legal proceedings have already been initiated to reclaim a specific property, but were begun more than 30 years after it was confiscated and the legal process is not complete before the new law enters into force, then that claim would automatically be dismissed.
On Monday, a bipartisan group of American lawmakers sent a letter to the Speaker of the Sejm of Poland urging her to stop the advancement of the bill. Ted Deutch (FL-22), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23), Grace Meng (NY-06), Lee Zeldin (NY-01), and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD-05) signed the letter.
“Prior to the Second World War, Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community – a community that was decimated during the Holocaust,” they wrote. “Property restitution for Holocaust survivors is about more than just money – it is an issue of morality, closure, acknowledgment of a horrific loss, and connection to a family and life that was brutally taken from them.”
“New, insurmountable legal conditions should not be imposed in 2021 that make it virtually impossible to recover their property or receive just compensation,” the letter reads.
Speaker of the Knesset Mickey Levy described the law as “daylight robbery that desecrates the memory of the Holocaust,” adding “Poland’s decision to pass this immoral law harms the friendship and bilateral relations between Israel and Poland.”
As a result, he decided not to re-establish the parliamentary friendship group between the Israeli Knesset and the Polish Sejm and Senate, which regularly holds various activities to strengthen ties between the countries.


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