Polish leaders united in opposition to anti-Semitism

prague | During big-issue speeches on alliances and cooperation made by the Polish president and prime minister during their recent diplomatic trips, the identical twin leaders also recited what has become a well-rehearsed mantra for them.

“There is no place for anti-Semitism in Poland, and we will do everything in our power to fight it whenever and wherever it occurs,” was uttered several times, in various ways, by both brothers during their diplomatic discourse.

The comments were made by President Lech Kaczynski, who met his counterpart and other key politicians in Israel, and by his twin brother, Jaroslaw, the prime minister, who held meetings with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Poland’s increasing military support for U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Admiration for the Kaczynskis abounds, but it is coupled with wariness over how they will implement their vision of a Poland free of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

“We welcome any declaration from the president and prime minister when they declare that they will fight against all forms of anti-Semitism,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the European Jewish Congress.

The brothers’ comments are seeking to offset months of criticism by Jewish groups that are concerned over several high-profile anti-Semitic incidents.

An Anti-Defamation League report released last week that said anti-Semitism was on the rise in Poland cited three key concerns: a commentary on Radio Maryja in April that accused Jews of engaging in “Holocaust business”; anti-Semitic stances by members of the League of Polish Families, an extreme right wing party in the government coalition; and the influence of the chairman of the league, Roman Giertych, who is education minister.

All of these issues were discussed in a Sept. 13 meeting between the Polish prime minister and David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

Harris noted that worries about anti-Semitism have to be put into a broader context.

“Very few people understand the extent of Poland’s bilateral relations with Israel. We also do not take lightly the support for the U.S. commitment in the Middle East, including troops in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said.

Poland has 1,000 troops in Afghanistan and has pledged an additional 900; there are also 900 Polish soldiers in Iraq.

In Israel, Lech Kaczynski sought to back up his statement to the country’s president, Moshe Katsav, that the Jewish state has no greater friend in Europe.

He offered to increase troops for the United Nations force in Lebanon from 200 to 500 and demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of Polish Jewish history, stunning some Israeli politicians, according to media reports.

David Peleg, Israel’s ambassador to Poland, said he has no doubts about President Kaczynski.

“I have known President Kaczynski for 10 years. I believe him in his very strong and sympathetic feelings towards Israel and his sensitivities on Jewish issues, as is proven by his financial backing of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews,” which is set to open in 2008, Peleg said.

“But I am sure he knows that there is work to be done,” Peleg added.

Within Poland, that “work to be done” involves the flow of anti-Semitic publications despite anti-racist laws.

Piotr Kadlcik, chairman of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland, suggested there is a gap between the government’s spoken commitment to countering anti-Semitism and reality.

He said he and many other Poles were disgusted that the country’s biggest purveyor of anti-Semitic materials, Leszek Bubel, was last week again found not guilty in one of several trials in which he was charged with promoting hatred against Jews.