Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski is due to visit Israel next week at the
invitation of President Shimon Peres and will be the fourth elected president of
Poland to visit since the renewal of diplomatic relations and the fall of
communist rule in the eastern European country.
Komorowski visited Israel
in 2009 as speaker of the Polish parliament, but this will be his first state
visit as president. He will be accompanied by a delegation of some 40 people
including government ministers.
In addition to being hosted by Peres,
meetings are scheduled with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker
Yuli Edelstein and Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich. His visit also
coincides with a number of cultural events and exhibits celebrating famous
Poles, Jewish Poles and an economic forum related to cooperation between Israel
Poland severed diplomatic ties with Israel in 1967 in the
aftermath of the Six Day War, although it restored recognition of Israel in
1986, it did not renew relations until 1990.
Since then Poland has worked
towards reconciliation of its tragic past and in 2008, citizenship was restored
to 15,000 Jews who had been exiled by the communist regime in 1968. Poland’s
third elected president, Lech Kaczynski, made land available for the
construction of the Museum of Polish Jewish History which will be fully
operational next year.
Komorowski is following in a tradition set by his
predecessors in office continually working towards cooperation with the Jewish
One of the Komorowski’s key advisors, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who as
Poland’s first non-communist prime minister formed the first Solidarity
government, died on Monday at the age of 86. It was Mazowiecki who witnessed the
signing of the agreements between Israel and Polands’ foreign ministers Moshe
Arens and Krysztof Skubiszewski for the full restoration of diplomatic
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post in advance of Komorowski’s visit,
Polish Ambassador Jacek Chodorowicz said that Mazowiecki was one of the great
Solidarity activists in communist times and a prominent advisor on political
issues to a series of Polish leaders, despite failing health at an elderly age.
Mazowiecki had been the editor-in-chief of the weekly Solidarity magazine and
during the period of martial law was arrested and imprisoned for a year. He was
one of the last of the Solidarity prisoners to be released. He was later an
instrumental figure in the round table discussions that led to the free
elections that resulted in Solidarity’s landslide victory. An internationally
respected human rights activist, Mazowiecki was elected in 1992 as the special
United Nations envoy to Bosnia Herzogovina.
His passing is a great loss
to Poland, said Chodorowicz.
The ambassador continued that Poland
attaches great importance to Komorowski’s visit, saying, “looking to the future
while not forgetting the past,” in reference to exhibits in Tel Aviv and
Jerusalem that relate to the common past of Poles and Jews, and the Economic
Forum, which will celebrates the economic future of Poland and
Within the context of Komorowski’s visit, there will also be a
Polish culinary festival which will incorporate some 40 events. The response
from Polish and Israeli chefs – who will be cooking together – has been
exceedingly positive, said Chodorowicz, who lamented the fact that while Polish
cuisine is a natural legacy of the Israeli kitchen, it has been permitted to
fade away in favor of Mediterranean cuisine.
The culinary festival is
designed as a comeback for Polish culinary tradition, especially with regard to
In his discussions with Israeli leaders, Komorowski
will emphasize the importance of enhancing people to people relations. This will
partially be achieved by focusing on common history. Whereas Israeli youth
traveling to Poland learn the history of the Holocaust, they rarely engage in
any kind of interchange with their Polish peers. This is starting to change,
said Chodorowicz, as groups of exchange students are spending time in each
Additionally, the Museum of Polish Jewish History will
be used as a meeting point between Polish and Israeli young people, he
continued, because it is the ideal place in which their common past is
Chodorowicz expects that tourism and other visits between the
countries will increase with the introduction next month of budget flights
between Tel Aviv and Warsaw, to be operated by Wizair, which specializes in low
Even without Wizair, Polish tourists to Israel last year
were in the range of 130,000.
Inexpensive flights will also have an
effect on cultural exchanges which have been steadily increasing since 2008 when
the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv organized a year of Polish culture. With the
availability of cheaper fares, visual and performing artists from both countries
will travel with greater frequency.
Asked whether Komorowski’s
discussions in Israel would include the banning of ritual slaughter in Poland,
Chodorowicz said that, while it is understood how important the issue is for the
Jewish community, it is a matter that has to be decided by the Constitutional
Court in Bialystok, which will issue a ruling as to whether such a ban is
constitutional or not.
He could not say when such a ruling would be
handed down, other than that it will not be in the near future.
be within the next two to three weeks, but it’s more likely to be within the
next two to three months,” he said.
In early August, Peres sent a letter
to Komorowski asking for his support in legalizing ritual
Chodorowicz was also asked whether the Polish president would
be discussing the ban on circumcision. He was doubtful that the subject would be
raised “because the issue of circumcision is not in the Polish context, but in
the broad European context.”