WARSAW, Poland (AP) – The Polish government said on Monday that its ambassador to Israel will remain in Poland for the time being after Israel downgraded diplomatic relations with Warsaw and sharply criticized a new Polish law that protects the rights of the Holocaust Survivors on property recovery are constrained by the country’s former communist regime.
Meanwhile, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki defended the new law, which affects Gentiles and Jews alike, and said it would end a period of criminal abuse in his country.
The dispute broke out after the Polish president signed the new law on Saturday, despite strong pressure from the US government warning Israel that doing so would harm relations.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned it as “an immoral, anti-Semitic law” when he called back his nation’s top diplomat just hours after President Andrzej Duda signed it from Poland. Israel also suggested that the Polish ambassador, who is on vacation in Poland, not return to Israel.
The Polish Foreign Ministry said Monday that Ambassador Marek Magierowski would remain in Poland until further notice in response to “unjustified acts” by Israel and “unacceptable statements” by Lapid and other members of the government.
The dispute is the latest in history between Poland, home of the largest Jewish community in Europe before World War II, and Israel, which was founded by German dictator Adolf Hitler and his aides as a refuge for Jews who were expelled from Europe.
An earlier crisis erupted in 2018 over a Polish law criminalizing false claims about Poland’s cooperation with Nazi Germany. Israel saw this as an attempt to clean up the Polish crimes against Jews during the Holocaust. The law was eventually watered down.
“The negative impact on our relations began the moment Poland decided to pass laws in 2018 aimed at damaging the memory of the Holocaust and the Jewish people,” Lapid said on Sunday. “The times when Poles injured Jews without consequences are over. “
The new legislation states that administrative decisions made 30 years or more ago can no longer be challenged, which means that most landowners whose homes or businesses were confiscated during the communist era can no longer receive compensation.
Israel says that Poles today benefit from the homes and businesses that were captured first by the Nazis and then by the communist regime of Poland.
Poland argues that it was Germany’s victim and is not responsible for the consequences of the original property confiscation.
Morawiecki defended the law on Monday, arguing it was necessary to combat fraud committed by criminals who claimed in court that they represented pre-war owners in order to gain ownership of valuable property to which they had no rights.
“Wild reprivatisation has led to many human tragedies in Poland. Tens of thousands of people have been thrown out of the houses in which they have lived all their lives – just because there was a law in our law that allowed an indefinite “return” of real estate, “said Morawiecki.
He said the new law “restores elementary justice and the rule of law in Poland”.
The law does not distinguish between Jews and Gentiles, and it is expected that the vast majority of those who will be affected by the legislation will be Gentiles.
Still, the issue plays a big role in relations with Israel and the United States, as both countries – as home to many Holocaust survivors – are determined to defend their interests.
The question of property rights is extremely complex. Before the war, Poland was a multi-ethnic state with Jews, Germans and Ukrainians, many of whom lost their property. After the war, Poland’s borders were shifted to the west, with some areas in the east surrendering to Ukraine, while Poland gained some former German areas.
Poland has never yet passed a comprehensive law providing reimbursement or compensation to former owners. Successive Polish governments have declared that the Polish state cannot afford this.
Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this.
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