There was an ice age between Poland and Israel for years. When the Polish ambassador went on vacation last year, Jerusalem advised him not to return and withdrew its own envoy from Warsaw. Poland had previously passed a controversial law that made it harder to return property confiscated after World War II – and also hit the descendants of Holocaust survivors.
Now both countries want to improve their relations: the ambassadors would return to their posts, they announced this week. But there are still many obstacles in the way of a normal relationship. This is shown above all by trips by Israeli school classes to Poland.
Up until the beginning of the corona pandemic, around 40,000 young Israelis visited Holocaust memorials in Poland every summer, including former German death camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau. The visit is an essential part of the Israeli curriculum. This year, the trips should actually be resumed. But Israel recently turned it down. The reason: a dispute about the design of the trips.
The Poles wanted to prescribe the curriculum, explained Israel’s Foreign Minister and new Prime Minister Jair Lapid. “We will not allow that.” Lapid, whose grandfather was murdered by the Germans in Mauthausen and whose great-grandmother died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, is on a confrontational course with Warsaw. In any case, school trips have long been a contentious issue.
Israel accuses Poland of falsifying history in order to suppress its own anti-Semitism. Poland, on the other hand, criticizes Israel for not recognizing the extent of its suffering during World War II and the efforts of individual Poles and Polish organizations to save the Jews.
In 2018, the Polish parliament passed an amendment to the law criminalizing statements such as that Poles participated in the German genocide of Jews or the use of the term “Polish death camp”.
The differences of opinion were considered settled by 2020, mainly because the Israeli side was willing to give more consideration to Polish-Jewish and Polish-Israeli history in addition to the Holocaust history in their travel program. But now the whole thing is back on the agenda, because the Polish government wants to ban the Israeli security forces, who usually accompany school trips, from carrying weapons.
“These security forces shield students from their surroundings in Poland. This gives the students the impression that Poles are fundamentally hostile towards them,” says Pawel Jablonski, Polish Deputy Foreign Minister, to WELT AM SONNTAG.
He rejects the accusation of influencing the content: “Of course, we would like the Polish-Israeli and Polish-Jewish relationship to play a role in the course of the school trips. But under no circumstances do we want to influence the Israeli curriculum, and we certainly do not want to reinterpret history.”
However, this newspaper learned from the Israeli Foreign Ministry that Poland very well wanted to get involved in the program of the school trips. The ban on weapons is merely an excuse to gain more say. It is normal for armed security forces to accompany school classes in Israel, even when traveling domestically. There will probably not be an agreement in the school dispute any time soon.
Poland’s education minister recently said that Israeli youth have a wrong view of history. Many of them think that the German death camps are actually Polish because they are in Poland today. “That’s a lie,” said the ultra-conservative Przemyslaw Czarnek. He therefore campaigned for only Polish guides to be allowed to guide visitors through Auschwitz.