Visegrad Group Summit in Israel Cancelled Amidst Holocaust Controversy
A summit of the Visegrad Group, commonly known as the V-4, slated to take place beginning on Monday, Feb. 18, was canceled amongst diplomatic uproar surrounding the Holocaust. The V-4 summit was set to occur in Israel and to be hosted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Following public remarks made by Prime Minister Netanyahu that unabashedly recognized Polish collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War, Poland rescinded its participation. The other member states of the V-4-- Hungary, Czechia, and Slovakia-- who notably make up a nexus of rising nationalist sentiment, xenophobia, and antisemitism in Europe, will no longer be in formal attendance of the group summit in Israel.
Israel took the forefront of hosting a 2019 V-4 summit in what appears to many international observers as an attempt to disrupt cohesive efforts aimed at forging European unity and alliance across the European Union. Purportedly, Netanyahu’s efforts at deepening relations between Israel and the V-4 nations underscore larger Israeli aims of creating new discourse and opinions in Europe concerning the state of Palestine and affairs with Iran. Netanyahu’s outreach to the V-4 has created rows within Israeli society as opposition members to Netanyahu’s government claim that his activity suggests disrespect and disregard for the memory of the Holocaust, given various anti-semitic comments and legislation made by leaders of the V-4. Of particular contestation have been the 2018 Polish legislation surrounding the criminalization of accusations of Polish collusion with Nazi Germany, and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s assailments of Jewish billionaire George Soros which often allude to anti-semitism.
Comments made by Netanyahu on Thursday, Feb. 14 ultimately derailed prospects for the summit. Significant controversy has surrounded Netanyahu’s statements, as some claim miscommunication has arisen from inconsistencies in translation between Hebrew and Polish. While on a visit to Poland for a U.S. led summit on the Middle East, Netanyahu reportedly commented to reporters that, “‘Poles cooperated with the Germans’ during the Holocaust,” sparking backlash from his Polish hosts. This initial comment was recorded by some outlets instead as Netanyahu accusing ‘The’ Poles as a whole, setting off a scramble for diplomatic clarification between Israeli and Polish officials. In apologizing to Poland however, Netanyahu received pushback from Israelis who claimed that his petering to Polish sensitivities again undermined respect for the memory of Jewish Holocaust victims.
Following Netanyahu’s remarks, rumors arose of Poland’s withdrawal from the pending summit. Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz proceeded to aggravate the tense situation by making further public comments that, “Poles collaborated with Nazis… and suckle anti-semitism with their mother’s milk.” Afterwards, Poland formally rescinded its participation and denounced Israeli behavior. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the statements “racist” and an insult to Polish honor and history. The V-4 summit was fully canceled following Poland’s non-attendance, with bilateral talks between the other members and Israel supposedly taking place informally instead.