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Polish President Andrzej Duda takes part in a ceremony marking the National Independence Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw, Poland November 11, 2019. Credit: Agencja Gazeta/Reuters
Polish President Andrzej Duda takes part in a ceremony marking the National Independence Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
06.01.2020, Israel and the World
Polish President Andrzej Duda has threatened to boycott the World Holocaust Forum set for later this month in Israel.
According to a report in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Duda intends to announce his withdrawal from the January 23 conference after he was not given an opportunity to speak at the event. Another reason, the report said, is an expected address by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who over the past month has waged a campaign against Poland accusing it of responsibility for World War II.
In Poland, concerns have been voiced that Putin will exploit the conference to continue to level such accusations.
The Polish newspaper cited yet another reason for Duda’s expected cancellation – the fact that Intelligence Affairs Minister Yisrael Katz is one of the conference’s sponsors. Katz angered Poland last year when he said that the Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk” – a statement also made at the time by former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Katz made the remark in the context of a crisis between Poland and Israel sparked by Poland’s passage of a law that criminalizes any mention of Poles’ responsibility for crimes committed by the Nazis. The opponents of the law were concerned that its purpose was to censor discussion of Polish involvement in Nazi crimes.
The law was eventually retracted and Israel and Poland signed a controversial joint statement saying that many Poles had saved Jews and few had participated in their persecution. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial accused the prime ministers of Israel and Poland, who signed the declaration, of distorting history and damaging the memory of the Holocaust. Katz’s remark drew harsh responses in Poland, and last year, Poland boycotted the conference of the Visegrad Group, a political alliance of Central European countries, which Netanyahu wanted to host in Israel. Poland demanded an apology from Katz, but the latter did not do so.
Domestic Polish issues may also be behind Duda’s expected boycott of the January Holocaust conference. This is an election year in Poland, and Duda will be running for his second term as president. Participation in a conference at which the Russian president might disparage Poland could harm Poland’s standing. Duda also broke with his years-long tradition and did not take part in Hanukkah candle-lighting with representatives of the Jewish community. No official reason was given, but it may be assumed that Duda seen lighting candles alongside rabbis could deter potential voters from the nationalist right wing.
The conference, to be held at Yad Vashem later this month, commemorates the Holocaust and also highlights the fight against anti-Semitism, in the context of increasing anti-Semitic attacks worldwide. It will also mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.