WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Israeli government said Friday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was misquoted by a newspaper on the extremely sensitive issue of Polish behavior during the Holocaust, seeking to defuse a diplomatic crisis.
However, the Polish government said it considered that response insufficient and expects a clearer explanation.
Netanyahu said a day earlier during a visit to Warsaw that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis” — wording suggesting that some Poles during the German occupation on Poland took part in killing Jews.
However, the Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying “the Poles,” which could be taken as blaming the entire Polish nation.
The matter threatened to spark another major spat between the two countries, which clashed last year over a new Polish law that made it illegal to blame the Polish nation for collaboration in the Holocaust.
Poland has even threatened to withdraw from a meeting of Central European leaders that is to take place next week in Israel.
Netanyahu was clearly eager to avoid another potential crisis.
“The Prime Minister’s comments concerning Poland were misquoted by the Jerusalem Post, which quickly issued a correction clarifying that an error had been made in the editing of the article,” Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
The Polish Foreign Ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador for an explanation. But a deputy foreign minister, Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek, said the explanations given so far are “unclear” and that Warsaw is still awaiting a clarification that would leave it with no doubt.
He said Poland has expressed an “expectation that the Israeli side will say in a clear way what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meant when he said the words that were quoted by the Israeli media,” Szynkowski vel Sek said.
He added, though, that this did not impact to the leaders’ upcoming meeting in Jerusalem, slated for Feb. 18, where Netanyahu hopes to strengthen Israel’s political and economic ties with central European countries.
The Holocaust is still an extremely sensitive subject in Poland, even nearly 80 years after World War II.
Nazi Germany subjected the country to a brutal occupation, killing nearly 6 million citizens, about 3 million of them Jewish, but almost as many of them Christian Poles.
Poland had an underground resistance movement that fought the Germans and more than 6,800 Poles have been recognized by Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial, for saving Jews at risk to their own lives, more than from any other country.
However, there was anti-Semitism in Poland before the war and some Poles welcomed the removal of the large Jewish population from their society, while some blackmailed Jews or participated in the killings.
Debates rage to this day over how to characterize the Polish responses to the murder of Jews on their soil.