Polish President Claims Jewish ‘Hatred’ for Poles at Rally

(Bloomberg) -- An assault on the Polish ambassador in Israel shows “hatred” fostered by Jews against Polish citizens, President Andrzej Duda told a rally ahead of this month’s European elections.

Israeli police said Wednesday they’d detained a man who shouted and spat at Ambassador Marek Magierowski outside the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv the previous day. Hours later, Duda called on Israel to explain the incident, which he said “humiliated” the envoy and condemned as an attack on Poland’s “pride and dignity.”

“Sadly, everything suggests that this was an anti-Polish act, an act of hatred against us -- hate which is absolutely unfair,” Duda told a crowd in the southern town of Myslenice. “Just as I fight all instances of anti-Semitism, which I regard as something vile and unworthy, I will never agree to any anti-Polish act.”

The ruling Law & Justice party, which Duda represented in the European Parliament before running for president in 2015, is turning up its rhetoric ahead of the May 26 ballot to motivate more nationalist voters to participate in elections. Critics say the authorities are giving a voice to racism with their us-against-them approach that turns minorities, either religious or based on sexual orientation, into enemies.

Canceled Visit

The incident and Duda’s reaction come amid already thorny relations between Poland and Israel, mainly over the Holocaust and questions regarding Jewish property seized by the Nazis and the Communists last century. Poland’s Foreign Ministry abruptly canceled a visit by Israeli officials this week amid concern that talks would focus on restitution of real estate.

Arik Lederman, 65, said Wednesday he had gone to the embassy the previous day to inquire about seized property, but was turned away with an anti-Semitic slur by a security guard. While he was walking away from the embassy, he said, a car approached from behind and honked loudly, scaring him. He reacted with an emotional outburst, Lederman said in comments replayed on the evening news. Ambassador Magierowski disputed the account that the security guard had acted improperly.

According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, after the passenger rolled down the window to photograph him, Lederman opened the car door and spat at the person inside. Lederman said he didn’t realize the passenger was the ambassador, and he hoped to have a chance to apologize personally.

“Israel expresses its full sympathy with the Polish ambassador and shock at the attack,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said. Lederman was placed under house arrest and barred from the vicinity of the embassy for a month.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted that the “racist incident” was “unacceptable,” while public television, headed by a former Law & Justice lawmaker, made the assault one of its top stories.

Last year, Law & Justice ignited outrage with a law criminalizing any suggestion that the country was responsible for the mass murder of Jews during World War II. The legislation -- which was eventually watered-down -- angered Israel, which saw it as an “attempt to challenge the historical truth” and muzzle Jews who survived the Shoah.

In February, Morawiecki scrapped a trip to Israel after his counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said Poles cooperated with Germans during World War II.

In his speech in the southern Polish town, Duda said Poles had risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis, becoming “heroes” by doing “decidedly more than is required by fairness and a moral code.”

“Nobody will offend us or put us down,” Duda said, prompting applause from the crowd in Myslenice. “We won’t allow it.”

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