Israel And Poland Agree To Improve Strained Relations

After almost a year of strained relations, Israel and Poland agreed on Monday, July 4th, to rectify their damaged relationship, starting by mutually restoring ambassadors. Relations between the two nations declined after Poland introduced a law in August 2021 making it difficult for Jewish people to recover property taken by Nazi German occupiers and kept by Poland’s post-war communist rulers.

Improvements in the relationship between Poland and Israel could foreshadow a future reversal of that legislation, which the Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, has denounced as being “anti-Semitic and immoral.” More recently, Lapid accused the Polish government of trying to control the Holocaust studies curriculum taught to Israeli children and barring Israeli delegations from learning about Poland’s treatment of its Jewish citizens during the Holocaust. Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s statement on the agreement declared that “both presidents expressed their hope that any future issues between Poland and Israel will be solved through sincere and open dialogue and in a spirit of mutual respect.” Polish foreign policy advisor Jakub Kumoch, as quoted by the Polish news website Onet, echoed this sentiment, saying, “we are trying to mend our relations with Israel… No losers or winners. We [will] give one more chance for normal relations.” Polish President Andrzej Duda’s office affirmed that the Polish ambassador to Israel should return. President Herzog’s office stated that the Israeli ambassador-designate to Poland would present their letters of credence within a few days.

The agreement also marks a clear shift in Israel-Poland relations in recent history. Before World War II, about three and a half million Jews, or about 10% of the population (the highest percentage of Jewish people in any European country), lived in Poland, according to Facing History and Ourselves. That number has shrunk to approximately 380,000 after the Holocaust, and less than 10,000 Jews are estimated to live in Poland today. Up until August 2021, this remaining population could claim that a property had been seized illegally and demand its return. Polish officials argued that this caused uncertainty over property ownership, and on August 14, President Andrzej Duda signed legislation that set limits on Jewish people’s ability to make such claims. Just two days later, Poland’s ambassador to Israel was recalled until further notice, as was the head of Israel’s embassy in Warsaw. Earlier this summer, Israel canceled trips to Poland for thousands of high school students, citing Poland’s censorship of Holocaust education. With each recent event being a step down in their relations, this agreement is a sudden change in the right direction for Israeli-Polish history.

A harmonious relationship between the two nations encourages using diplomacy over military force to solve conflicts. Thus, improving relations between Israel and Poland is a net positive for global peace. Additionally, by building a relationship with Poland, Israel could eventually convince the government to repeal the discriminatory property law. The Jewish population of Poland deserves restitution, and Monday’s agreement is an optimistic sign that they will soon achieve it.

The Jewish population of Poland has been denied their right to restitution by the Polish government, and it’s the responsibility of foreign nations to use every diplomatic option available to convince Poland to restore their rights. Israel and Poland’s new attempt at bettering their relations could be the first step on the path to restoration, but further improvements in their relationship, as well as the efforts of other countries, will be needed to reach the finish line.