The Latest: Party head: Israel confirms Polish view on Nazis

Robert Winnicki, Mateusz Morawiecki, Marek Kuchcinski
The Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Latest on Poland reversing course on a disputed Holocaust speech law (all times local):

9:35 p.m.

The influential leader of Poland’s ruling party says a joint declaration by the Polish and Israeli prime ministers should end the hostile debates over Poland’s law on Holocaust speech.

The declaration was published on Wednesday after Poland’s lawmakers revised the law to remove the possibility of prison sentences for falsely blaming Poles for Nazi Germany’s crimes.

Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski told the Niezalezna news portal that the goal of the declaration by Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu was to “show to the world and to our nations that we have reached an agreement on this.”

The law strained Poland’s ties with Israel and with the United States. The amendments have been welcomed as a positive move.

Kacyznski said that in agreeing to the declaration, Israeli authorities “fully confirm Poland’s position” on Germany’s responsibility for the Holocaust.

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8:30 p.m.

Poland’s prime minister says a disputed Holocaust speech law that the government has just reversed has made the world more aware of the heroism of Poles during World War II and of the prejudice they face.

Mateusz Morawiecki expressed satisfaction that the existence of anti-Polonism, a term indicating hostility to Poland and Poles, was formally acknowledged in his joint statement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that concluded five months of debates over the controversial law.

Poland’s parliament proceeded quickly Wednesday to remove punitive provisions from the law which had strained ties with Israel.

In their declaration, Morawiecki and Netanyahu backed free research of the Holocaust and condemned anti-Semitism and anti-Polonism.

They also noted efforts by Poland’s war-time resistance forces to alert the Allies to the plight of Jews.

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7:55 p.m.

Poland’s president has signed into law amendments which abolish the threat of prison for anyone who blames Poland for Nazi Germany’s Holocaust crimes.

The amendments were introduced Wednesday morning by the prime minister and quickly approved by lawmakers.

President Andrzej Duda’s office said he “consistently emphasizes that the fight and care for the good name and honor of Poles and Poland is a task that should be fulfilled by all Polish politicians and public institutions.”

The original law, passed earlier in this year, had strained ties with the United States and Israel. The reversal was expected to open a period of better ties with those key partners. However, Poland’s conservative authorities were facing the disapproval of nationalist voters who accuse the ruling party leaders of giving in to Jewish and foreign interests.

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6:30 p.m.

Israel’s prime minister is welcoming the votes by Polish lawmakers to remove the threat of prison from a Holocaust speech law that prohibits attributing Nazi crimes to Poland as a nation.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki read a joint declaration in their respective countries on Wednesday, ending a dispute that had tarnished the typically cordial relations between Poland and Israel.

“We believe that there is a common responsibility to conduct free research, to promote understanding and to preserve the memory of the history of the Holocaust,” the declaration states. “We have always agreed that the term “Polish concentration/death camps” is blatantly erroneous and diminishes the responsibility of Germans for establishing those camps.”

As originally written, the law sparked a major diplomatic crisis with Israel, where Holocaust survivors and others feared it was an attempt to whitewash episodes of Polish violence against Jews in World War II.

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5:20 p.m.

Poland’s Senate has approved changes to a controversial Holocaust speech law that remove the threat of prison for blaming Poland for the Holocaust crimes of Nazi Germany.

The move by the upper house of the Polish legislature came hours after the lower house approved the amendments, which Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki introduced Wednesday.

The changes must still be approved by President Andrzej Duda, who is expected to do so.

Wednesday’s surprise developments create a new opening for Poland to mend ties with the United States and Israel, which had both criticized the original legislation. First approved five months ago, the original bill foresaw prison terms of up to three years for intentionally and falsely blaming Poland for Nazi Germany’s Holocaust crimes.

Poland said it sought to protect historic truth. Critics said it threatened freedom of speech and research.

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5:05 p.m.

Poland’s prime minister has defended his government’s sudden backtracking on controversial parts of a Holocaust speech law, saying it testified to his administration’s maturity.

At Mateusz Morawiecki’s urging, Parliament’s lower house voted Wednesday to cancel provisions that called for prison terms for anyone falsely attributing Nazi Germany’s crimes to Poles. The upper house of senators is expected to vote on the issue later Wednesday.

The provisions had strained Poland’s ties with Israel and with the United States earlier this year, but were welcomed by many supporters of the right-wing government.

Morawiecki said the reversal should help mend foreign ties and that a “mature state draws conclusions and is capable of modifying its line.”

He insisted that the contested regulations had helped raise awareness in the world that the occupying Nazi Germany was responsible for the Holocaust on Polish soil.

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2:50 p.m.

A Holocaust remembrance and research center in Jerusalem has welcomed the Polish government’s plans to remove criminal penalties for blaming Poland as a nation for the Holocaust, provisions that many feared would suppress academic inquiry.

Yad Vashem said in a statement Wednesday that the government’s reversal was “a positive development in the right direction.”

The memorial center says the “correct way to combat historical misrepresentations is by reinforcing open, free research and educational activities.”

Polish lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the change at the request of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The original law allowed criminal penalties of up to three years in prison for intentionally and falsely blaming Poland as a nation for Holocaust crimes in fact committed by Nazi Germany.

Yad Vashem said it supports “ensuring that educators and researchers are not hindered in grappling with the complex truth of Polish-Jewish relations before, during and after the Holocaust.”

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1:20 p.m.

The head of the Jewish community in Poland says the government’s decision to scrap controversial criminal provisions in a Holocaust speech law will help restore Poland’s relations with the Jewish diaspora, with Israel and with the United States.

Leslaw Piszewski said that the Jewish community in Poland was “very pleased” to see the government’s decision to back away from imposing criminal provisions for anyone attributing Nazi Germany’s crimes to Poles. Introduced earlier this year, those provisions had deeply strained Poland’s ties with Israel and with the U.S.

Lawmakers voted Wednesday to approve the change.

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1 p.m.

The World Jewish Congress has welcomed Poland’s decision to scrap criminal provisions that were part of a Holocaust speech law.

Polish lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the changes Wednesday at the request of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, said the organization was “pleased that the Polish government has recognized the untenable nature of its new Holocaust law.”

The original version of the law, passed early this year, called for prison terms of up to three years for falsely accusing the Polish nation of Holocaust crimes committed by Nazi Germany. The ruling Law and Justice party said it was trying to stop the use of expressions like “Polish death camps” for Nazi camps on occupied Polish territory during World War II.

Lauder said, “Poles are understandably upset when Nazi German annihilation and concentration camps are referred to as ‘Polish’ simply due to their location on German-occupied Polish soil, but it was an egregious mistake to criminalize those who do so.”

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11:35 a.m.

Polish lawmakers have passed changes to a disputed Holocaust speech law, removing criminal provisions for attributing Nazi crimes to Poles.

The speaker of parliament, Marek Kuchcinski, said that the amendments passed 388 to 25 with five abstentions during the Wednesday vote.

The original version of the law, passed earlier this year, called for prison terms of up to three years for falsely accusing the Polish nation of Holocaust crimes that were committed by Nazi Germany.

Poland’s nationalist ruling party, Law and Justice, said it was trying to protect historic truth about Poland, which was a victim of World War II.

But the law sparked a major diplomatic crisis with Israel and the United States.

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9:30 a.m.

Polish lawmakers are debating a new version of a Holocaust speech law that would remove criminal provisions for statements deemed harmful to Poland’s good name.

A version of the law passed earlier this year called for prison terms of up to three years for falsely accusing the Polish nation of Holocaust crimes that were committed by Nazi Germany.

It sparked a major diplomatic crisis with Israel, where many felt it was an attempt to whitewash Poland’s history of violence against Jews during World War II. The United States warned it threatened academic freedom and that it would harm Poland’s “strategic position.”

The new draft bill was presented to parliament by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and represents a defeat for the nationalist government.

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