World

Diplomatic crisis erupts between Poland and Israel after aid worker’s death

Damian Sobol, 35, was among seven people who were killed while delivering food to besieged Palestinians with the charity World Central Kitchen.

People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP)
People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip People inspect the site where World Central Kitchen workers were killed in Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP) (Abdel Kareem Hana/AP)

A new diplomatic crisis between Poland and Israel has erupted following the death of a Polish aid worker in Gaza, with the Polish president denouncing a comment by the Israeli ambassador as “outrageous” and the Foreign Ministry in Warsaw saying it was summoning him for a meeting.

Damian Sobol, 35, was among seven people who were killed while delivering food to besieged Palestinians with the charity World Central Kitchen.

Israel has called the incident a “mistake” that followed a misidentification.

Damian Sobol (World Central Kitchen/WCK.org via AP)
Damian Sobol Damian Sobol (World Central Kitchen/WCK.org via AP) (AP)

The charity said its vehicles were clearly marked.

Amid shock in Poland over the death of the charity worker, Israel’s ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne pushed back at what he said were attempts by the “extreme right and left in Poland” to accuse Israel of “intentional murder in the attack”.

He said on social media on Tuesday that “anti-Semites will always remain anti-Semites, and Israel will remain a democratic Jewish state that fights for its right to exist. Also for the good of the entire Western world”.

Polish President Andrzej Duda on Thursday called the comment “outrageous” and described the ambassador as “the biggest problem for the state of Israel in relations with Poland”.

Mr Duda said authorities in Israel have spoken about the tragedy “in a very subdued way”, but added: “Unfortunately, their ambassador to Poland is not able to maintain such delicacy and sensitivity, which is unacceptable.”

Prime Minister Donald Tusk, while a political opponent of Mr Duda’s, voiced a similar position.

He said on Thursday that the comment was unacceptable and had offended Poles, and said that the ambassador should apologise.

The deputy foreign minister was quoted in the Polish media as saying that Mr Livne was summoned to a meeting on Friday morning.

Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the comment had offended Poles (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)
Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the comment had offended Poles (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP) (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

A day earlier, Mr Tusk published a comment on social media addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Mr Livne saying that “the vast majority of Poles showed full solidarity with Israel after the Hamas attack. Today you are putting this solidarity to a really hard test. The tragic attack on volunteers and your reaction arouse understandable anger”.

Mr Duda on Thursday also called for Israel to pay “appropriate compensation” to the family of aid worker Mr Sobol.

Mr Sobol had been on an aid mission to Gaza for the past six months following work in Ukraine, Morocco and Turkey.

Polish and Israeli relations have recently been on the mend after several difficult years.

Ties were badly damaged due to disputes over how to remember Polish behaviour during the Holocaust, when Nazi Germany occupied Poland and carried out the mass murder of Jews.

For eight years until December, Poland had a nationalist government that played down Polish participation in the German killings of Jews and focused largely on Polish aid to Jews.

Israel’s government believed that approach amounted to historical distortion.

Israel also objected to a law that limited property restitution claims, something that affected the heirs of Polish Holocaust victims, and recalled its ambassador in 2021 before sending Mr Livne the next year as ties improved.

Mr Duda said that “we agreed to have this representative finally be in Poland in order to facilitate Israel’s relations with Poland”, but that the ambassador now “is making these relations more difficult”.