MKs and party leaders across the political spectrum rallied behind the proposal to augment the Holocaust denial law ratified in 1986, which is intended to serve as a response to Polish lawmakers’ recent decision to push ahead with legislation that Israel has argued is an attempt to downplay Poles's role in Nazi atrocities.
The amendment proposal came following an initiative sponsored by Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union), Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu), Nurit Koren (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Bayit Yehudi) and signed by 61 Knesset members.
Israel has lashed out at the Polish bill, which prescribes prison time for defaming the Polish nation by using phrases such as "Polish death camps" to refer to the killing sites Nazi Germany operated in occupied Poland during World War II.
Israel's existing law against Holocaust denial stipulates that anyone who publishes material denying or minimizing the Holocaust, or identifying with criminals who acted against the Jewish people, come face up to five years in prison.
In what is an attempt to counter the potential punitive measures for violating the prospective Polish law, the proposed Israeli amendment also offers full legal protection to Holocaust survivors in the event that legal proceedings are pursued against them in foreign countries for recounting horrors they endured in the Holocaust at the hands of Polish collaborators.
The amendment will also define Holocaust denial and diminishing the responsibility of collaborators of the Nazis (including civilians from Poland and other European nations) as criminal acts.
The full legal protection afforded to the Holocaust survivors sharing their testimony will be extended to educators and guides for tours to Poland on Holocaust-related trips in the event that cases are filed against them.
The legal backing is part of an attempt to ensure that such educators and Holocaust survivors are not deterred from disseminating historical facts about the wide-scale Polish collaboration in Nazi atrocities.
MKs spearheading the legislative amendment have raised concerns that other Parliaments may emulate the Poles and promote similar laws.
“Let the Poles and others who may follow in their footsteps know that the historical truth of the Jewish nation is not up for sale,” MK Shmuli said.
“Many Poles and others heard about, knew about and assisted the Nazi death camps. The Polish attempt to deny history and to shut the mouths of Holocaust survivors is a farce, disgusting and shocking. Collaborators cannot be allowed to hide behind the Nazis and to shirk their historic responsibility.”
Echoing Shmuli’s comments, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also scolded the Poles over what he said was an attempt to absolve themselves of responsibility “for the death of millions of Jews in the Holocaust.”
The latest actions, he added, “only emphasize the need to act with greater rigor against these kinds of voices. We must to act with a heavy hand with all means, as well as in the Knesset against Holocaust denial.
“We cannot forget. Not the Nazis or those who collaborated with them. That is our obligation to the memory of millions of dead people. The world must know. Jews are no longer prepared to be silent and are no longer frightened.”