WARSAW— A summit meeting of the Visegrad group, scheduled for this week in Jerusalem, has been cancelled after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki withdrew his participation following a diplomatic spat over over Polish collaboration in the Holocaust.
The Israeli foreign ministry confirmed Monday that there would not be a meeting of the so-called V4 (Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia) in Israel on 18-19.
‘’There will be no full V4 meeting. Three PMs are arriving will hold meetings with Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu,’’ said ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon in a tweet.
The diplomatic row between Warsaw and Jerusalem started after Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters that remarks by newsly appointed Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz were “racist and unacceptable” and that “this is not something that can be left without a response.”
Speaking at the Warsaw Middle East summit last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Poles cooperated with the Nazis. I know the history and I don’t whitewash it. I bring it up”.
He made the comments after being asked by a reporter what he thought about the Polish law which makes it a criminal offence to attribute culpability to the Polish nation for the Holocaust. He later issued a clarification saying he was not referring to the Polish nation or all Polish people.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz then added on Sunday: “I am a son of a Holocaust survivor… The memory of the Holocaust is something we cannot compromise about, it is something clear and we won’t forget or forgive. In diplomacy you try not to offend, but nobody will change the historical truth to do something like that. Poles collaborated with the Nazis, definitely”.
On Sunday, he doubled down on his comments in an interview with Israel Radio saying: “The Poles took part in the extermination of Jews in the Holocaust. Poland became the biggest cemetery of the Jewish people”.
The dispute over the Polish Holocaust law was resolved last year when Poland softened the law and Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart agreed on a joint declaration stressing the involvement of the Polish resistance in helping Jews. It was seen as a diplomatic coup for Poland but Netanyahu faced criticism from historians in Israel, including at Yad Vashem, for agreeing to a statement that they said distorted history.
Poland’s ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski tweeted on Sunday: “it is really astonishing that the newly appointed foreign minister of Israel quotes such a shameful and racist remark. Utterly unacceptable.”
Polish President Andrej Duda said that if Netanyahu’s remarks suggested that the Polish nation collaborated with the Nazis then: “Israel would not be a good place to meet”.
Netanyahu has made improving relations with the Visegrad group – Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Czech Republic- a strategic priority.
Netanyahu first offered to host a meeting of the Visegrad Group, also known as V4, in July 2017 in Budapest. The summit in Jerusalem was due to touch on ways the four countries can help fight the European Union’s unfair policies toward Israel.
The Jerusalem meeting would have been the first time the group, which was founded in 1991, ever convened outside of Europe.