Tens of thousands of Israeli teenagers have been going on heritage trips to Poland every year. But this year the Polish government said it will no longer allow for the trips to be accompanied by armed security, citing that they are not necessary and their presence does more damage than good.
The Israeli Ministry of Education announced on Tuesday, June 15, that it will cancel all high school trips to Poland, following the Polish refusal to continue allowing the trips to be accompanied by armed officers of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.
“It has been decided at this time that the activities of the youth delegations to Poland will be frozen,” was the message sent to approximately 7,000 students who were meant to go on the trips this summer.
On Wednesday, Łukasz Jasina, the spokesman for the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs referred to the Israeli Ministry of Education's decision to cancel the trips, stating that “the situation in which the security services of another country are carrying weapons on the territory of our country is no longer tolerable.” He said the Polish side “cannot afford situations in which Poland may appear as a dangerous state, against whose citizens it is necessary to protect Israeli youth.”
Later the same day, the matter was later also addressed by the Polish Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paweł Jabłoński. According to him, Poland has reached out to Israel in December 2021 informing the Israeli side that the formula of the trips will need to change, but there was no reaction initially. Poland reached out to Israel again in March when the new Israeli ambassador to Poland arrived in Warsaw, and the process of negotiations began.
Mr Jabłoński said that the way the trips are organised does damage to Polish-Israeli relations, as the Israeli youths only get to see Poland and Polish people “through the perspective of Nazi German concentration camps. They are not taught about the entirety of Polish-Jewish relations which lasted for over a thousand years.” He also complained that young Israelis are deliberately isolated from their Polish peers. In effect, the trips imbue their impressionable young minds with negative stereotypes.
Specifically addressing the question of armed security, he said that Shin Bet agents often act arrogantly towards other people visiting memorial sites, and their presence alone “creates a false impression in the trips’ participants that Poland is a dangerous place.”
He stressed that it is not Poland’s intention to prevent Israeli youths from coming to Poland, but to make sure that the trips are organised in such a formula, that they foster friendly relations between Israelis and Poles instead of damaging them.