Israel furious as Poland signs law to limit property claims

Israel recalls its top diplomat to Poland after president approves bill curbing World War II-era restitution claims.

Polish President Andrzej Duda signed a law setting a 30-year time limit on challenges to property confiscations - many of them relating to Poland's once-thriving Jewish community [File: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters]

Poland’s president has decided to sign a bill that would set limits on the ability of Jews to recover property seized by Nazi German occupiers and retained by post-war communist rulers, drawing fury from Israel which branded the law as “anti-Semitic”.

“I made a decision today on the act, which in recent months was the subject of a lively and loud debate at home and abroad,” Andrzej Duda said in a statement published on Saturday.

“After an in-depth analysis, I have decided to sign the amendment.”

Before World War II, Poland had been home to one of the world’s biggest Jewish communities, but it was almost entirely wiped out by the Nazis and Jewish former property owners and their descendants have been campaigning for compensation.

Up to now, Jewish expatriates or their descendants could make a claim that a property had been seized illegally and demand its return, but Polish officials argued this was causing uncertainty over property ownership.

In 2015 Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled there should be specific deadlines after which administrative decisions over property titles could no longer be challenged. Changes to the law were adopted by the Polish Parliament earlier this week.

The bill sets a 30-year limit for restitution claims.

The issue of Jewish property rights in Poland is further complicated because, unlike other European Union states, it has not created a fund to give compensation to people whose property was seized.

An ‘immoral law’

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid slammed the decision, ordering on Saturday the country’s charge d’affaires in Warsaw to return.

“Poland today approved, not for the first time, an immoral, anti-Semitic law,” Lapid said in a statement on Saturday.

“This evening I instructed the charge d’affaires at our embassy in Warsaw to return immediately to Israel for consultations, for an indefinite period of time,” he said.

“The new Israeli ambassador to Poland, who was scheduled to depart to Warsaw, will remain in Israel for the time being,” Lapid added.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett slammed the law as “shameful” and said it showed “disgraceful contempt for the Holocaust’s memory”.

“This is a grave measure that Israel cannot remain indifferent to,” he said in a statement.

Lapid said the foreign ministry would recommend that the Polish envoy to Israel, currently on vacation, “continue his vacation in his country”.

“He should use the time on his hands to explain to Poles the meaning of the Holocaust to Israelis,” Lapid said.

Israel was joined by the United States in its opposition to the legislation, and Lapid said Israel was conducting talks with the Americans on further courses of action.

Six million Poles, half of them Jewish, were killed during World War II in Poland.

After the war, Communist authorities nationalised vast numbers of properties that had been left empty because their owners had been killed or fled.

While the law covers both Jewish and non-Jewish claimants, campaigners say Jewish owners will be disproportionately affected because they were often late in lodging claims after the war.

Source: News Agencies