2018-07-04 / Home

How the US pushed Poland to soften its Holocaust speech law

By CNAAN LIPHSHIZ JTA


Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland visits the Ulma Family Museum, Jan. 2, 2018. Right-wing critics in his country accused Morawiecki of capitulating to Israel in softening a law on Holocaust rhetoric. 
JTA photo by Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland visits the Ulma Family Museum, Jan. 2, 2018. Right-wing critics in his country accused Morawiecki of capitulating to Israel in softening a law on Holocaust rhetoric. JTA photo by Janek Skarzynski/AFP/Getty Images. After the prime minister of Poland announced a major retreat on his country’s controversial Holocaust speech law, many of his right-wing critics accused him of capitulating to Israel.

The concession presented by Mateusz Morawiecki was an amendment passed hastily in parliament altering a law from February that was meant to punish those who blame the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. The amendment essentially makes it a civil offense rather than a criminal one.

Jewish groups and organizations reacted with cautious optimism to the amendment of a law they believed would stifle scholarship and free speech. In Poland, some critics of the new legislation said it did not go far enough.

To Polish nationalists, however, the original law was essential to defending the country’s honor and preventing scholars and journalists from using terms like “Polish death camps” or portraying Poles as anything but victims of the Nazis. And they knew just who to blame for softening it: Israel.

Marek Markowski, a nationalist activist, said the amendment was a “disgraceful surrender” to “Israel’s extortion and strong-arming that apparently mean that this foreign nation is interfering with our internal matters,” he wrote on Twitter.

Markowski and others seized on Israel’s unusually vocal opposition to the law. But behind the scenes, many Polish analysts said, the real reason for the concession appeared to be pressure by the United States, not Israel.

In March, the Onet news site said it had obtained documents showing that Morawiecki and President Andrzej Duda would not be received by President Donald Trump or any other member of the U.S. administration if the law was not revised. Onet said it did not publish the documents to protect the source.

Staff from the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw also threatened to suspend funding for joint military projects between the United States and Poland, according to the Onet report.

Polish and U.S. officials denied the claims. But Trump and Duda did not meet once during the Polish leader’s five-day visit to the United States in May, while Trump did meet with the president of Uzbekistan at the White House.

Pundits in Poland also noted American pressure. Katarzyna Pelczynska-Nalecz, a former Polish ambassador to Russia, blamed “brutal, political blackmail by the United States” for the decision to amend the law, she told the Tok FM broadcaster.

In an op-ed for the Opinie news site, columnist Maciej Deja wrote that the amendment came “when it turned out that, despite the Polish position, the United States also stood on the Jewish side.”

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