Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Picture: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Picture: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN

Jerusalem — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended a controversial deal on a Polish Holocaust law, but hinted at further action after scathing criticism from historians.

Poland amended the law in June to remove criminal penalties, after sparking outrage in Israel and elsewhere by allowing jail terms of up to three years for ascribing Nazi crimes to the Polish nation or state.

But last week Israel’s renowned Holocaust memorial and research centre, Yad Vashem, harshly criticised the amended law and a joint statement related to it by Netanyahu and his Polish counterpart, Mateusz Morawiecki. It said the joint statement contained "grave errors and deceptions" by minimising Poles’ involvement in the Holocaust and added that the law remained problematic even after it was amended.

'Criminal clauses'

Netanyahu said on Sunday "the purpose of the contacts with the Polish government was to revoke the criminal clauses in the Polish law which cast a pall of fear over research and free discussion concerning the Holocaust. This objective was achieved."

The Israeli negotiating team said last week that Yad Vashem’s chief historian, Dina Porat, "accompanied the process from its inception".

At the start of a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said a senior historian was involved in writing the joint statement. "I listened with great attentiveness to the comments of historians, including those concerning some things which were not included in the statement," he said.

"I respect this and will see that this is given expression," he added, signalling Israel could take further steps regarding the Polish law.

Israel was deeply concerned the original legislation could allow Holocaust survivors to be prosecuted for their testimony on the involvement of individual Poles in killing Jews or betraying them to the Germans. There were also fears the law would prevent academic Holocaust research in Poland.