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Relations between Israel and Poland were already strained. Then (allegedly) came NSO

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

Poland’s opposition head calls to create a commission that would investigate hacking allegations. Meanwhile, ramifications of the country’s new anti-restoration laws are felt from Warsaw to Jerusalem

Donald Tusk during The Kyiv Security Forum in Kyiv, Ukraine on December 1, 202. Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via REUTERS
Donald Tusk during The Kyiv Security Forum in Kyiv, Ukraine on December 1, 202. Photo by Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via REUTERS

“An unprecedented thing in our history, the biggest and deepest crisis of democracy after 1989”. These harsh words were uttered by the leader of Poland’s opposition leader, Donald Tusk, who called yesterday (Tuesday) for the creation of a parliamentary commission that would investigate allegations that Israel’s NSGO Group’s spyware was used against officials associated with the Polish opposition.

Just over a week ago, a joint investigation by The Associate Press and University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab concluded that the phones of three individuals associated with Poland’s opposition were hacked using the powerful Pegasys spyware. Current Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, dismissed this as “fake news”.

The three individuals mentioned are opposition senator Krzysztof Brejza, from Tusk’s Civic Platform party, reportedly hacked during his 2019 stint as the party’s election campaign chief; Roman Giertych, an attorney who had previously represented Tusk and other opposition figures in court; and Ewa Wrzosek, an outspoken prosecutor fighting against the government’s attempts to curb the legal system’s independence.

Since the Pegasus Project came into light this past July, it seems that not a week has gone by without a new headline regarding NSO Group. From being blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce, through major lawsuits by Meta and Apple, to spyware traces found in the phones of activist, journalists and other target groups around the world – this company, which has repeatedly denied knowledge of any misuse of its equipment, has not been adding prestige to the Israeli cyber industry.

But in this particular case, the waters are already turbulent. Israel and Poland’s relations have been marred over the past few months. The crisis has been simmering for quite some time until it fully erupted in August, when Poland enacted a new anti-restitution law, which sets a 30-year time limit on appealing property restitution claims, de facto cutting off many Holocaust survivors and their offspring.

“Tonight, Poland has become an anti-democratic and illiberal country that does not honor the greatest tragedy in human history,” said in response Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, adding that “Poland approved, and not for the first time, an antisemitic and unethical law.”

Lapid immediately instructed the chargé d'affaires of the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw to return to Israel immediately for indefinite consultations, also announcing that the new ambassador, due to begin his stint in Poland, would stay in Israel for the time being. The Polish ambassador to Israel, who was on holiday at the time, was “advised” to stay in his homeland.

Following diplomatic consultations between the two governments and a series of positive steps taken by the Polish government (such as boycotting the Durban Conference and adopting the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism), Israel returned its chargé d'affaires to Warsaw last month. But things are still quite tense, according to a recent report by Ynet.

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