Uproar over Poland comments lingers for Israel’s Netanyahu

Uproar over Poland comments lingers for Israel’s Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019

Uproar over Poland comments lingers for Israel’s Netanyahu

Uproar over Poland comments lingers for Israel’s Netanyahu
  • Poland’s abrupt decision to downgrade its participation in the upcoming Visegrad conference suddenly cast a pall over the gathering
  • The crisis was sparked last week when Netanyahu told reporters that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis”

JERUSALEM: An off-hand comment by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Warsaw about Poland and the Holocaust looks to overshadow a summit of central European leaders this week in Israel.
Poland’s abrupt decision to downgrade its participation in the upcoming Visegrad conference suddenly cast a pall over the gathering, which Netanyahu has touted as a major milestone in his outreach to emerging democracies in eastern Europe and his broader goal of countering the criticism Israel typically faces in international forums.
The crisis was sparked last week when Netanyahu told reporters that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis.” The seemingly innocuous comment infuriated his Polish hosts, who reject suggestions that their country collaborated with Hitler.
Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, announced Sunday that he would be skipping this week’s Visegrad summit, a gathering with fellow prime ministers from Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Tuesday’s meeting in Jerusalem is the first time the gathering is being held outside of Europe.
But lost in the diplomatic uproar was that Netanyahu was actually defending his close alliance with Poland and other eastern European leaders when he made his comments.
Historians and domestic critics have accused Netanyahu of cozying up too tightly to nationalistic leaders who have promoted a distorted image of the Holocaust and turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism associated with them.
Morawiecki himself last year equated Polish perpetrators of the Holocaust to supposed “Jewish perpetrators.” Netanyahu has recently hosted leaders of Lithuania, Ukraine and other countries who have engaged in selective World War II-era commemorations that play down their countries’ culpability while making heroes out of anti-Soviet nationalists involved in the mass killing of Jews.
In response to a question from The Associated Press during his two-day visit to Warsaw, Netanyahu said he raises the issue of historical revisionism with the various leaders. He rejected the notion he was a partner to diminishing anyone’s complicity in the genocide of Jews in World War II.
“I know the history. I don’t starch it and I don’t whitewash it. In Lithuania, in particular, there were some horrible things. No one is concealing that,” said Netanyahu, the son of a historian. “This whole idea that we diminish history — we don’t distort, and we don’t hide, and no one has any interest in that, on the contrary.”
In the same briefing with his traveling press corps, Netanyahu tried to deflect prominent criticism by Israeli historians of the deal he struck with Polish leaders over their country’s controversial Holocaust speech law, which criminalized blaming the Polish nation for crimes committed against Jews during World War II.
Israeli officials saw it as an attempt by Poland to suppress discussion of the well-documented killing of Jews by Poles during and after the wartime German occupation.
“Poles collaborated with the Nazis and I don’t know anyone who was ever sued for such a statement,” Netanyahu told the reporters.
However, some media outlets reported him saying “THE Poles,” which set off an angry rebuke in Warsaw, including a summoning of the Israeli ambassador for clarifications. Netanyahu’s office said he was misquoted and blamed the misunderstanding on an editing error in an Israeli newspaper.
The Polish government nonetheless said it considered that response insufficient and threatened to withdraw from the conference.
Netanyahu’s office then reiterated that he “spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland.” That only got him in hotter water at home for seemingly catering to the Polish obsession over his wording.
“The prime minister of the Jewish state is selling out the memory of the Holocaust for a dubious alliance with an anti-Semitic leader,” said Tamar Zandberg, leader of the opposition Meretz party.
The summit is expected to go forth this week in Jerusalem even without Morawiecki, with Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz replacing him.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who is expected to attend, is another such leader who has trod into the sensitive terrain of World War II conduct. He has lavished praise on Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s World War II-era ruler, who introduced anti-Semitic laws and collaborated with the Nazis. Orban also has backed a state-funded museum that experts say plays down the role of Hungarian collaborators and also used anti-Semitic imagery in a campaign against the liberal American-Hungarian billionaire George Soros.
When pressed by the AP, though, Netanyahu came to his ally’s defense.
“His response was the most direct, saying ‘we are not willing to accept this,’” Netanyahu responded. “He (Orban) attacked Horthy at some point. They are going the furthest here.”
Netanyahu also addressed his warm welcome in January to President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine, whose parliament had just designated the birthday of Ukrainian wartime collaborator Stepan Bandera a national holiday.
Bandera’s forces fought alongside the Nazis and were implicated in the murder of thousands of Jews. The same day Poroshenko was visiting Israel, another memorial was being erected in Kiev for Symon Petliura, whose troops are linked to pogroms that killed as many as 50,000 Jews after World War I.
Netanyahu said he was not aware of that specifically but that he had some discussions with Poroshenko on the larger issue.
“I spoke to him too. I speak to them all. It’s not that we can’t raise the issue. We raise it freely,” he insisted.
Still, he then quickly shifted attention toward the contemporary anti-Semitism from the “anarchist left” and Muslim communities.
“I think the mass of anti-Semitism today in Europe is what is happening in western Europe,” Netanyahu said. “What is happening in Britain is astounding. This is the new phenomenon. There is the anti-Semitism of the right that hasn’t changed. That existed and still exists.”


Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
Updated 16 January 2021

Security Council members approve choice of new UN envoy to Libya

Jan Kubis, the recently appointed UN special envoy to Libya. (Reuters file photo)
  • Veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis will be secretary-general Antonio Guterres’s representative to the country
  • Glimmers of hope for Libyans as progress reported at first meeting of Libyan Political Dialogue Forum’s advisory committee

NEW YORK: Security Council members on Friday approved the appointment of veteran Slovak diplomat Jan Kubis as the UN’s special envoy to Libya.

It came as UN officials said significant progress has been made in Geneva this week during the inaugural meeting of the advisory committee for the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum (LPDF).

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres nominated Kubis to be his envoy, a position that has been vacant since early March last year, when Ghassan Salameh resigned due to stress after less than three years in the job.

A number of replacements were suggested but members of the Security Council failed to agree on one. In December they overcame their differences and approved the choice of Bulgarian diplomat Nikolai Mladenov — only for him to surprise everyone by turning down the offer for “personal and family reasons.”

Kubis is currently the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon. He previously held similar positions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Meanwhile Guterres’s spokesman Stephane Dujarric hailed what the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) described as significant progress during the first meeting of the LPDF’s advisory committee, which began in Geneva on Jan. 13 and concludes on Jan. 16.

“The mission hopes shortly they will be able to narrow down the major differences and reach near consensus on many of the contentious issues concerning the selection-mechanism proposals,” Dujarric said.

The formation of the advisory committee was announced on Jan. 3. Its 18 members, including women, young people and cultural figures, were chosen to reflect the country’s wide geographical and political diversity.

The secretary-general’s acting special representative for Libya, Stephanie Williams, had indicated that the main task for the committee would be to deliberate on the contentious issues that have plagued the selection of a unified executive authority. The aim is to develop solid recommendations the LPDF can consider in line with the political roadmap agreed by its 75 members during their first round of talks in Tunis last year.

This roadmap represents a rights-based process designed to culminate in democratic and inclusive national elections Dec. 24 this year. The date is also that of Libya’s 70th Independence Day. The elections will mark the end of the transitional phase for the country and chart a new way forward.

“This unwavering achievement, this date to return the sovereign decision to its rightful owners, is our top priority,” said Williams in her opening remarks at the advisory committee meeting in Geneva this week.

She also rejected claims that UNSMIL will have any say in the selection of the new executive authority. “This is a Libyan-Libyan decision,” Williams said, adding that the interim authority is intended to “shoulder the responsibility in a participatory manner and not on the basis of power-sharing, as some believed.”

She added: “We want a participatory formula where there is no victor, no vanquished; a formula for coexistence for Libyans of various origins for a specific period of time until we pass on the torch.

UNSMIL spokesman Jean Alam said the Geneva talks have already overcome some major hurdles. This builds on the political accomplishments since the Tunis meeting at which a consensus was reached on the political roadmap, the eligibility criteria for positions in the unified executive authority, and the authority’s most important prerogative: setting a date for the elections.

He also reported “very encouraging progress” in military matters since the signing of a ceasefire agreement in October by the 5+5 Joint Military Commission (JMC), the members of which include five senior officers selected by the Government of National Accord and five selected by the Libyan National Army.

“This includes the recent exchanges of detainees conducted under the JMC’s supervision, as part of wider confidence-building measures; the resumption of flights to all parts of Libya; the full resumption of oil production and export; as well as the proposed unification and restructuring of the Petroleum Facilities Guards, in addition to the ongoing serious talks on the opening of the coastal road between Misrata and Sirte, which we hope will take place very soon,” said Alam.

He also hailed “promising developments” relating to the economy, including the recent unification of the exchange rate by the Central Bank of Libya, a step that requires the formation of a new authority for it to be implemented.

“The recent meeting between the ministries of finance was an important effort to unify the budget and allocate sufficient funding to improve services and rebuild Libya’s deteriorating infrastructure, particularly the electrical grid,” Alam said.

“All of these reforms are steps that will bring national institutions together to work in establishing a more durable and equitable economic arrangement.”

Williams added that without a unified executive authority, it would difficult to implement these steps.