The Israeli and Polish foreign ministers on Wednesday, announced that they had resolved a dispute between the two nations and were reinstating ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Warsaw.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and his polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau, signed an agreement that they said would allow for the resumption of Israeli youth trips to Poland.
The visit by Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is the first at that level since 2018, and Poland’s Foreign Ministry says it will be followed by Israeli President Isaac Herzog attending observances next month for the 80th anniversary of the World War II Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Herzog’s office had no comment.
Wednesday’s meeting, particularly if followed by a visit from Herzog, would signal a thawing in ties after years of tensions marked by a withdrawal of ambassadors and Poland’s prime minister canceling a planned visit to Israel in 2019. Israel has since returned an ambassador to Poland, but there is still no Polish ambassador in Israel.
The two allies have seen ties deteriorate in recent years due to disagreements rooted in the Holocaust and how to remember Polish involvement in the killing of Jews by Nazi forces during WWII.
Nazi Germany occupied Poland in 1939 and killed millions of Jews and non-Jews. Unlike other countries occupied by Germany, there was no collaborationist government in Poland. While some Poles risked their lives to save Jews, others helped the Germans hunt down and kill them.
Poland’s ruling nationalists have sought to suppress historical inquiry into the Polish killing of Jews, depicting it as a marginal phenomenon and focusing exclusively on remembering the Polish heroes who helped Jews. That position has been condemned by historians, Israeli authorities and Jewish survivors who suffered persecution at Polish hands before, during and after the war, and accuse the government of seeking to whitewash history.
For years, young Israelis have made pilgrimages to Auschwitz and other Holocaust sites, as well as historic Jewish sites in cities like Krakow and Warsaw. But last year Israel canceled the trips, claiming the Polish government was trying to control the Holocaust studies curriculum taught to Israeli children.
Poland, in turn, rejected Israel’s demand to have security guards join organized Israeli school visits to Poland. The Polish officials argue that Poland is a safe country, and the presence of armed guards perpetuates an image of it as an antisemitic place where Jews need protection.
After the agreement to renew the youth visits was signed on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the move and said it was a positive step that would strengthen diplomatic ties between the two countries.
The foreign minister said a new chapter in the bilateral relations has been opened.
"Poland is an important part of Europe and together we will advance matters of importance for both nations."
The Polish-Israeli dispute led to an explosion of antisemitic rhetoric in 2018 on social media and Polish state media, but physical violence is extremely rare, making the country safer than many in Western Europe.
Ties began to deteriorate when Poland passed a Holocaust speech law in 2018 that made it illegal to blame Poland as a nation for the Holocaust — legislation so controversial that it was watered down, and even then has not been applied in practice.
Then in 2021, Poland’s parliament passed a law that effectively left Holocaust survivors and their descendants unable to reclaim property seized by the post-WWII communist regime.
Poland for centuries was home to a large Jewish community that numbered 3.3 million on the eve of the Holocaust. Only about 10% survived, and postwar persecution drove out many more. Today’s Jewish community is very small but has seen some growth since the end of communism more than three decades ago.
Israel was founded in the wake of the Holocaust as a refuge for Jews. It is home to a large but rapidly dwindling population of Holocaust survivors and its annual Holocaust memorial day coincides with the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.