Experts argue that the decision to pull out of the Jerusalem summit over the Poland row shows that the Visegrad countries are united against any form of racism.
PRAGUE – With tensions escalating between Poland and Israel, a summit of Central European leaders from the Visegrad group countries (V4) scheduled in Jerusalem has been cancelled, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis told state media outlet CTK.
The cancelled summit is the latest flare-up in an enduring spat between the two countries over the history of the atrocities that saw the elimination of over 90 percent of Poland’s Jewish population during World War II.
The issue began on Thursday as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said during his trip to Poland that “Poles cooperated with the Germans” during the Holocaust, causing an uproar among Poles, some of whom have denied research supporting the claim.
Exacerbating the situation further, Israel’s newly appointed interim Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz doubled-down on the remarks on Sunday saying: “every Pole suckled anti-Semitism with his mother's milk.”
Even though Netanyahu later offered a clarification that he was not referencing the entirety of the Polish nation, his Polish counterpart Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki yesterday pulled out of the summit, telling reporters that the foreign minister’s remarks were “racist and unacceptable”.
He later wrote on Twitter: “An important decision to postpone the meeting with Israel shows that the V4 is one and there is no agreement among us for baseless racist attacks on any of the partners.”
Morawiecki informed Netanyahu of his decision not to attend by phone Sunday, according to Michal Dworczyk, who heads the prime minister's chancellery. In his stead, Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz was to attend the summit until the entire Polish delegation pulled out of the trip altogether.
“Polish authorities were left with little choice but to cancel Poland’s participation in the summit, said Bartosz Wisniewski, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs. “Israel’s acting minister of foreign affairs crossed a line that immediately strikes a very delicate chord in Poland: assuming that Poles were complicit in German atrocities during the Holocaust because of their ‘inborn’ anti-Semitism.”
While the V4 summit has been cancelled, Babis confirmed that he, Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban were already in Israel and would instead hold bilateral meetings with Netanyahu.
“We have more or less agreed that the V4 meeting could only be in the second half of this year when the Czech Republic is to take over the presidency," he told reporters.
This is not the first time that Poland and Israel have been in conflict over the issues surrounding World War II. Last year, Poland introduced new legislation making the use of phrases such as "Polish death camps" punishable by up to three years in prison. That legislation has since been watered down after the US intervened in the matter.
“This is something that could have hard consequences on international relationships,” said Olgierd Annusewicz, a political scientist at Warsaw University. “You have to take into account that the Czechs, Slovaks and Hungarians were solidarity with Poland. It is not Poland who cancelled the summit. It was the decision of the other three members.”
He also said that while the consequences of this particular relationship may not wind up having a huge impact, it is at the very least an example of the lengths Israel is willing to go to as it toughens its stance ahead of legislative elections in April.
“At the end of the day, this whole situation was driven by internal Israeli politics as they are having infighting between parties,” he said.