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Scoop: White House urged Israel to end Poland Holocaust bill dispute

Participants wave Israeli flags at the main gate of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp during the 'March of the Living.' Photo: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Trump administration has urged Israel several times in the last few weeks to try to solve the crisis that erupted with Poland over a controversial law which makes it illegal to attribute crimes committed during the Holocaust to Poland.

A senior official at the Israeli foreign ministry told me: "The Americans made clear they don’t like the Holocaust law, think it is unacceptable and asked the Polish government to fix it. But at the same time they told us Poland is an important U.S. ally, especially in NATO, and also an Israeli ally and therefore there is a need to deal with the crisis carefully and not damage the alliance."

Senior Israeli officials told me the U.S. conveyed their messages in several channels both to the Israeli government and to opposition leaders and asked them to temper their public rhetoric against Poland:

  • The White House and State Department conveyed messages to Israel's ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, and to other diplomats at the Israeli embassy about the importance of relations with Poland. Similar messages were passed from Washington to the Prime Minister's office and the Foreign ministry in Jerusalem.
  • Vice President Pence met with the head of the Israeli opposition, Itzhak Herzog, on March 5 in Washington and raised the Poland crisis. An Israeli foreign ministry official said Pence asked Herzog to temper his critical statements against the Polish government and help solve the crisis, and Herzog stressed that the bill and the rhetoric about it from the Polish government were highly offensive and unacceptable. Herzog refused to comment for this story, as did the VP's office.
  • The State Department also asked the Israeli and Polish embassies to co-sponsor an annual Holocaust memorial day ceremony. Officials from both embassies also spoke at the ceremony on Wednesday.

The law:

  • The Holocaust law carries penalties of up to three years in prison, and is expected to apply to violators outside of Poland as well in the country.
  • After the uproar in Israel and the U.S., Polish President Andrzej Duda decided to use his authority and ask the constitutional court to review the law. The Polish government gave Israel a commitment not to implement it before the ruling.
  • Starting April 15th, the Polish constitutional court will be able to give its verdict on the Holocaust bill. Both the Polish ministry of Justice and the Polish human rights ombudsman have provided legal opinions which stress that several parts of the bill were either illegal or unconstitutional.
  • If the court orders the Polish parliament to review the bill and amend parts of it, that could lead to the end of the crisis with Israel.