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Netanyahu (R) in 2019 with Polish President Andrzej Duda (C) and then-Vice President Mike Pence. Photo: Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty Images

The diplomatic crisis over a Polish law limiting the ability to introduce claims to property confiscated during World War II is a manifestation of the shift in Israeli policy toward Europe under the new government.

Why it matters: The bill will mostly impact Holocaust survivors and their descendants, and it's seen by the Israeli government and the Biden administration as another step by Poland's government to rewrite the country's history around the Holocaust.

  • The bill was passed and signed into law despite objections from the U.S. and Israel, at which point the Israeli government decided on an unusually strong response.
  • It recalled the Israeli charge d’affaires from Warsaw, announced that the new Israeli ambassador to Poland would not arrive in the country, and “recommended” that the Polish ambassador to Israel extend his vacation and not return to Tel Aviv. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called the law "immoral" and "anti-Semitic."
  • The Polish government responded angrily, announcing that the ambassador would not return to Israel and threatening to prevent Israeli student delegations from visiting Nazi death camps in Poland. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also called Lapid "hysterical."

Flashback: Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had fostered close relations with Poland's nationalist right-wing government.

  • When a similar controversy emerged in 2018 over a law making it a criminal offense to accuse the Polish people of complicity in the Holocaust, Netanyahu helped facilitate a deal under which the Polish government removed the possibility of jail time while still allowing for fines and lawsuits.
  • As part of the deal, Israel and Poland released a joint statement adopting the Polish view that Poland cannot be held responsible for Holocaust atrocities. The statement was strongly criticized by the Yad Vashem Holocaust research institute in Israel.

The big picture: Netanyahu cultivated close relations with the Visegrád Group (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) because of his close political and ideological alignment with their ruling parties — and as part of his attempts to divide the EU and weaken its criticism of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza.

The latest: Lapid, who wants to realign Israel with the liberal democracies in Western Europe, has pronounced the joint statement from 2018 null and void and said Israel "won’t blink in front of the despicable behavior of the anti-democratic government in Poland.”

Go deeper

Oct 13, 2021 - World

Netanyahu assured Putin "I will be back soon" after losing election

Netanyahu (L) with Putin in 2019. Photo: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AFP via Getty

Days after being ousted as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu passed a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin promising a quick comeback, a source close to Netanyahu and a European diplomat told me.

Why it matters: Netanyahu and Putin had a close relationship that grew even closer after Russia began its military involvement in Syria in 2015. Netanyahu flaunted that relationship during election campaigns — meeting with Putin days before the 2019 vote and even featuring a picture of the two together on a campaign billboard to emphasize his stature as a statesman.

Oct 13, 2021 - World

Biden's new Iran dilemma

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Photo: Majid Saeedi/Getty Images

The Biden administration is grappling with a new dilemma as nuclear negotiations with Iran remain frozen: whether more pressure on Iran would help push the Iranians back to the 2015 deal, or lead Iran to escalate its nuclear program, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The Iranian nuclear program has made significant advances in recent months that will be difficult to roll back — and that could potentially undercut the benefits of salvaging the 2015 accord, particularly if a deal isn’t reached soon.

Updated 1 hour ago - World

Reports: Up to 17 U.S. missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince earlier this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children were among up to 17 American Christian missionaries and their relatives kidnapped by a gang in Haiti on Saturday, the New York Times first reported.

Details: The missionaries had just left an orphanage and were traveling by bus to the airport to "drop off some members" and were due to travel to another destination when the gang struck in Port-au-Prince, Haitian security officials said, per the NYT.

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