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 and Poland.

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 state.

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 ties.

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 Israel.

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 Polishstyle delis.

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 other’s countries.

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 reflected.

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 cost travel.

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.

“It could 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 slaughter.

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.”

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