Poland’s Parliament passed a bill that imposes jail sentences for accusing Poles of collaborating in the Holocaust or other war crimes. The law triggered concerns from the United States and Israel over free speech and anti-Semitism. Both countries condemned the bill, which sets up to three years of imprisonment for blaming the wartime murder of the Jews on the Polish state or people. The legislation is another piece of the current government’s nationalism and state control over democratic institutions, the media and the judiciary.
The opposition and critics also accused Warsaw of turning a blind eye to the rise of xenophobia in the country after extremists had organized a march seeking an ethnically pure Poland that had attracted 60,000 people. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki to lobby against the legislation and the Israeli government has compared the law to state denial of the Holocaust. “Israel opposes categorically the Polish Senate decision,” Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry commented in a statement. “Israel views with utmost gravity any attempt to challenge historical truth. No law will change the facts.”
The bill does not specifically mention the Holocaust or the Second World War but it criminalizes accusing the Polish state or population for responsibility or complicity in any crime against humanity. The subject is contentious and very emotional for both Poland and Israel. The subtext of the bill is implicitly believed to be the genocide that took place on the Polish territory. Before the war, Poland had been home to about three million Jews. Almost 90% of them perished.
European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish Prime Minister, said the legislation would have the opposite of its intended effect, damaging Poland’s reputation abroad and tarnishing the view of history that it aimed to criminalize. “Anyone who spreads a false statement about ‘Polish camps’ harms the good name and interests of Poland,” he tweeted. “The authors of the bill have promoted this vile slander all over the world, effectively as nobody has before.”