Polish President Andrzej Duda has spoken positively of Israel and the Jewish people on his state visit to Israel this week.
Speaking in Jerusalem, President Duda emphasised the positive growing relationship between Israel and Poland and praised Israeli innovation.
“Israel unquestionably is one of the leaders in the area of innovation”, he said. “That is why I have brought with me representatives of Polish start-ups, young and innovative businesses who hope to establish cooperation with Israeli companies. I hope that my visit will give a strong impulse to furthering Polish-Israeli economic relations.”
— Israel Foreign Min. (@IsraelMFA) January 18, 2017
Talking about Israel’s role in combating radical Islam, he stated, “I would like to commend Israel`s actions aimed at fighting terrorism”. He used the example of Israel’s activities in the Sinai against ISIS as being “proof of the significant role that the State of Israel plays in stabilising the situation in the region”.
— שגרירות פולין (@PLinIsrael) January 19, 2017
In another meeting, President Duda took the opportunity to boast of Poland’s relationship with its Jewish community. He said that unlike in France or other parts of Western Europe, Jews in Poland can freely walk around openly wearing religious attire.
“Jewish culture is popular in Poland today because it raises positive memories,” Duda said, expressing the conviction that “kippa-wearers in every Polish city are much safer today than in Western Europe — France, for example.”
In a separate question, he later stated his position on anti-Semitsm, stating, “Anyone who supports anti-Semitism in Poland today removes itself from our community.”
PM Netanyahu and his wife Sara hosted Polish President Andrzej Duda and his wife, Agata Kornhauser-Duda, for dinner at the PM's residence. pic.twitter.com/Z8I3OpTwYw
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) January 18, 2017
Duda also spoke about the Holocaust, trying to distance Poland from the atrocities of the Nazis.
“It wasn’t us who invaded Poland in 1939,” he said, referring to the 1939 occupation that triggered World War II. “We did not make the Holocaust. We were conquered by the Germans. We had no free choice.”
The president said his countrymen were just as much victims of the Holocaust as the Jews. “Six million of our citizens were killed, half of them Jewish,” he said. “Hitler wanted to kill the Jewish people, but he also planned to kill the Slavs. Along with the European Jews there were also others in the camps, including Poles, who were killed and persecuted.”
When asked about the Poles who played an active part in killing Jews, the president responded, “The historical truth is what it is. It is not always pleasant or pretty,” the president replied. “Like any nation, there were decent people who showed heroism and risked their lives to save Jews, but there were also people who were despicable.”
It is interesting to note that Israel has awarded more Polish people with the honour of “Righteous Among the Nations” than any other country. The award is given to non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis.
Poland recently passed legislation that criminalises the use of the phrase “Polish death camps” when referring to Nazi extermination camps in occupied Poland.
Defending the decision, the president said that sites such as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek should not be referred to as Polish concentration camps.
“They were not Polish camps. This absurd name refers only to geography,” he said. “How would you feel if a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv was called ‘an Israeli attack’? How would the Japanese feel if the Hiroshima atomic bomb was referred to as ‘a Japanese nuclear attack’? It is a historical distortion.”