WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki canceled his plans to attend a meeting of central European leaders in Israel starting Monday amid new tensions over how Polish behavior during the Holocaust is remembered and characterized.
Morawiecki informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s of his decision by phone Sunday, Michal Dworczyk, who heads the prime minister’s chancellery, said. Poland’s foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, plans to attend instead, he said.
Dworczyk did not give a reason for the prime minister’s cancellation. But Polish officials had threatened to pull out of the meeting after the Israeli leader made an off-hand comment about the Holocaust and Poland while in Warsaw on Thursday.
Netanyahu said during a Middle East conference hosted by the United States and Poland that “Poles cooperated with the Nazis” – wording suggesting some Poles participated in killing Jews during the German occupation of Poland.
He was initially quoted by the Jerusalem Post as saying “the Poles,” which could be taken as blaming the entire Polish nation.
Both Netanyahu’s office and the newspaper said he was misquoted due to an editing error. The Polish government summoned the Israeli ambassador on Friday and later said it was not satisfied with the explanation of the Israeli leader being quoted incorrectly.
Netanyahu is supposed to meet with the leaders of the four central European countries known as the Visegrad Group — Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia — during the two-day meeting in Israel.
Warsaw and Jerusalem had a major spat last year over a new Polish law that made it illegal to blame the Polish nation for collaboration in the Holocaust.
Poland’s nationalist government has sought to focus only on cases of heroism by Poles during Germany’s World War II occupation of the country. The law was seen by many as an attempt to quash research and discussion of any Poles who participated in decimating Poland’s Jewish population.
The dispute sparked an explosion of anti-Semitic hate speech in Poland, and there were signs of another spike in recent days.
“The worst of all is that a man cannot even hate Jews in response, because he knows that this is what the sons-of-bi_es” are going for,” a prominent host on public broadcaster TVP, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, tweeted Saturday.
In the western city of Wroclaw, the words “Jezus jest Krolem” (Jesus is King) were spray-painted on an exterior wall of a Jewish cemetery.