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Holocaust and all that…

The diplomatic row between Poland and Israel has escalated since last Friday, when Netanyahu suggested Polish complicity in the Holocaust.

Editorial | New Delhi |

The Middle East summit has come a cropper even before the delegates had assembled at the high table in Jerusalem. More than 70 years after the hideous Holocaust, an awesome phase of world history has come to bear on a restive swathe of the world. Poland has pulled out of a scheduled summit on Israel following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remark that “many Poles had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and thus shared responsibility for the Holocaust”. On Monday, he stopped short of sharing empirical evidence. Although a post-war generation is now at the helm in both Poland and Israel, memories must still rankle from one century to another as delegates from Israel and Central Europe prepared for yet another bout of jaw-jaw. Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has binned the remarks as “racist and unacceptable”. He had previously said he would not join Tuesday’s gathering in Israel and would instead send a lower-level delegation. As it turns out, Warsaw stiffened its stance on Monday when the government let it be known that no Polish officials would now attend ~ “Not only can we not accept such racist comments, but with all our strength we want to stress that we will fight for historical truth, for the honour of Poles,” was the Prime Minister’s robust message to Israel. Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government is anxious to defend the country’s national honour over its wartime record. Indeed, this has been the cornerstone of its foreign policy since it assumed power in 2015. Many Poles have refused to accept research findings that show thousands of Poles had participated in the Holocaust; thousands of others had risked their lives to help the Jews. They claim that Warsaw’s Western allies have over the decades failed to acknowledge the scale of Poland’s own suffering under wartime occupation. Ergo, its refusal to attend the summit emits a signal to Europe generally. The diplomatic row between Poland and Israel has escalated since last Friday, when Netanyahu suggested Polish complicity in the Holocaust. Deeply critical must be the diplomatic setback. Poland’s decision is a blow for Netanyahu, who had hoped the summit would burnish his standing ahead of Israel’s April 9 election. The summit, he had hoped, would counterbalance west European criticism of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Equally, Netanyahu has faced criticism in Israel over his attempt to woo allies in central Europe at the cost of re-interpreting the history of the Holocaust and dumbing down anti-Semitism. The dispute also hobbles Poland’s ambition to play a prominent role in the region. Many supporters of the ruling party will welcome Morawiecki’s decision. He has called off the summit after the affront from Netanyahu; otherwise, he would have conveyed the impression of being too soft. Arguably, it is a gambit ahead of Poland’s national election.