Polish law on property stolen by Nazis angers Israel

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Memorial commemorating the Jedwabne pogrom in Jedwabne, Poland on July 29, 2021Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Poland has many memorials to Polish Jews killed by the Nazis during World War Two

Poland's president Andrzej Duda has approved a law that will make it harder for Jewish people to recover property lost during and after World War Two.

The move has triggered a diplomatic crisis, with Israel recalling its ambassador to Poland and branding the law "anti-Semitic".

The legislation relates to claims on property stolen by Nazi Germany, then seized by Poland's communist regime.

The law sets a 30-year limit on challenges to such confiscations.

As most happened soon after the war, many outstanding claims will now be blocked.

The Polish government says the change will end a period of legal chaos, but Israel condemned it forcibly.

"Poland today approved - not for the first time - an immoral, anti-Semitic law," Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.

Mr Lapid also said he was recommending Poland's ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, remain on his summer holiday in Poland.

"He should use the time available to him to explain to the Poles what the Holocaust means to the citizens of Israel and how much we will not tolerate contempt for the memory of the victims and the memory of the Holocaust," he tweeted.

On Monday Poland's foreign ministry said Mr Magierowski had been recalled until further notice, citing Israel's "recent unjustified actions".

Earlier Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he would arrange for the ambassador's children to be brought home.

In a statement, the prime minister rejected Israel's accusations of anti-Semitism and said its rhetoric would "increase hatred towards Poland".

Mr Duda said signing the bill into law ends an era of legal chaos in the process of handing back confiscated properties.

In recent decades property restitution has become deeply mired in corruption, with title claims being bought and sold, and tenants suddenly finding themselves thrown out of their apartments from one day to the next. Jewish claims account for just a minority of total claims, most of which have been made by Poles.

As a result, the law received the backing of Poland's opposition as well as the government.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett branded the law "shameful". He said it showed "disgraceful contempt for the Holocaust's memory".

About six million Jews died in the Holocaust, half of them Polish. About 90% of Poland's pre-war Jewish community were killed.

Israel's opposition to the legislation was supported by the US, and Mr Lapid said further courses of action would be discussed with Washington.

The Polish government has previously said the new law has nothing to do with Israeli and US fears.

When World War Two ended, Poland's communist authorities nationalised many properties that had been left empty because their owners had fled or been killed.

The new law covers both Jewish and non-Jewish claimants, but critics say Jewish owners were often late in lodging claims after the war and will be disproportionately affected.