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Poland considering ban on Israeli student trips to concentration camps saying they promote 'hatred' of Poles

Student visits to Auschwitz in jeopardy amid Polish-Israeli diplomatic crisis

Jewish youth participate in the March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in Poland as Israel marks annual Holocaust Memorial Day, April 16, 2015. (Photo: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Poland is going to re-examine whether to allow Israeli high school students to visit Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration and extermination camps on Polish soil.

Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński told Polskie Radio Program III on Monday that Poland would make “appropriate decisions” on the matter of the annual Israeli student trips.

The announcement is likely to exacerbate the recent Polish-Israeli diplomatic crisis concerning a new Polish law that severely affects restitution of stolen Jewish property in Poland during and after the Second World War. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blasted the Polish law as “anti-Semitic.”

“Gone are the days when Poles harmed Jews without a response,” Lapid said.

Jabłoński claimed that this is the kind of statement rooted in historical ignorance and incites hatred against Poles.

“There are many reasons for this situation, but one of them is certainly the way in which Israeli youth is educated and raised,” Jabłoński said.

He further accused Israel of spreading anti-Polish sentiments among Israeli students through their visits and brainwashing them to hate Poland and Poles.

“This propaganda, also based on hatred of Poland, is poured into the heads of young people from an early school age,” Jabłoński claimed.

From a Jewish and Israeli perspective, the student trips to Auschwitz and other concentration camps are meant to educate Jewish youth in Israel and the diaspora about the horrors of the Holocaust as a result of lethal anti-Semitism and the need for a strong Jewish nation.

The senior Polish official said his government would review and issue a decision on the matter.

Amos Hermon, CEO of Israel Experience, which organizes trips from Israel and the diaspora to Poland, responded to the criticism by stressing “the trips to Poland contribute to strengthening the identity, historical knowledge, memory and lessons of the Holocaust of young Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.”

The diplomatic crisis between Jerusalem and Warsaw deepened further on Monday when Poland decided to recall its ambassador to Israel, two days after Israel recalled its ambassador from Poland.

The Polish government stated that its diplomatic move was in response to the “recent unjustified actions of the State of Israel, including the unfounded decision to lower the level of diplomatic relations” and “unacceptable statements” by Lapid, among others.

Poland was, until recently, one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the European Union. Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu advocated strong relations with Poland by focusing on current shared diplomatic and commercial interests rather than past Holocaust-related controversies.

However, Lapid – who is the son of a Holocaust survivor – is a vocal critic of Polish policies and has accused Netanyahu of being soft on Poland and the memory of the Holocaust. From the new Israeli government’s perspective, the Polish government crossed a red line with the controversial restitution law.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Monday that Poland must “provide justice” for Holocaust victims.

“We deeply regret the adoption of these amendments,” Blinken said in a reference to the new controversial Polish law.

Blinken urged Warsaw to “consult with representatives of affected parties and to develop a clear, efficient and effective legal procedure to resolve confiscated property claims and provide some measure of justice for victims.”

Blinken warned that the new law could potentially harm all Polish citizens.

“In the absence of such a procedure, this legislation will harm all Polish citizens whose property was unjustly taken, including that of Polish Jews who were victims of the Holocaust,” he said.

Some critics believe that Washington’s response to the controversial Polish law has been weak. However, Washington is likely torn between its strong alliance with Israel and its important relations with Poland, which is one of the most pro-American countries in the European Union.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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