Israeli diplomat incurs Polish wrath

Polish deputy minister: Education minister "not a Hamas politician."

July 11, 2006 20:39
3 minute read.
Israeli diplomat incurs Polish wrath

Giertych 298.88. (photo credit: AP)

Israel should judge ultra-nationalist Polish education minister Roman Giertych by his future actions and not shun him due to his past missteps, a Polish deputy foreign minister said Tuesday. "Do not judge by past record, judge by how they act now, by present action and future deeds," Polish undersecretary of state Witold Waszcykowski said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

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The comments came just days after Israeli ambassador to Poland David Peleg set off a political storm in Poland by announcing that he would shun Giertych due to his party's anti-Semitic ideology. The Polish deputy minister said that he could not understand the Israeli ambassador's concern, asserting that he had overstepped himself by publicly airing his views on the appointment of the controversial education minister. "Mr. Giertych is not a Hamas politician," Waszcykowski said. "He is playing by the rules, and I don't see any basis for such a comment." The Israeli ambassador to Poland last week decried as "incomprehensible" Giertych's appointment to the post and said he would refuse to meet with or have any interchange with him. He added that the problem did not involve the education minister but the anti-Semitic party he heads. But in the interview, the Polish undersecretary of state argued that by entering the governing coalition Giertych's far-right party, the League of Polish Families, would have to accept the norms and standards of democratic behavior. "Once you enter the democratic system, you have to accept the system, too," Waszcykowski said. He added that plans to create a new Polish department dealing with Israeli-Polish youth exchanges and Holocaust issues, which will fall under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister's Office - and thereby bypass the Education Ministry - should be completed in the coming days, a proposal which he said pre-dated the crisis but which Israel has deemed a sine qua non following the minister's appointment this spring. Some 30,000 Israeli youths visit Poland each year on school trips related to Holocaust education. The appointment of the 35-year-old extremist party leader - whose party won only 8% of the vote in last year's Polish election - to such a prestigious government position has caused dismay among Israeli and Jewish officials. The concern is compounded by the fact that the Polish Education Ministry is charged with joint youth programs between Israeli and Poles, interactions that are considered to be a cornerstone of future relations between the two countries. Giertych's grandfather was a staunch advocate of anti-Jewish boycotts, with his party rooted in a nationalist movement that existed between the two world wars, which succeeded in both segregating and limiting the number of Jews at Polish universities. The party's youth wing has in the past made Nazi salutes and chanted Nazi slogans. Waszcykowski said that the son of Britain's Prince Charles had done similar actions, and that it was the job of the government to find, defeat and condemn such behavior. For his part, Giertych said Monday that "There is and there will be no place for anti-Semitism in Poland" during a surprise appearance at a memorial for hundreds of Jews killed by their Polish neighbors during World War II, a move that was widely seen as an attempt to show that he was not anti-Semitic. The Polish government's decision to make a union with two of Poland's small populist parties, including Giertych's League of Polish Families, instead of joining forces with a competing center-right party, has been criticized in Poland and Europe, where the focus of criticism has been on the minister's anti-homosexual views. The discord over the move follows a decade of burgeoning Israeli-Polish relations, with governmental relations between the two countries now considered to be among the best in Europe. The highly criticized appointment of the controversial Polish party leader to such a sensitive position comes after several years when Poland has been reaching out to the Jewish world in an effort to change its image and focus on the past common bonds between the two peoples. "The problem we are facing is to transfer very good state-to-state relations to a people-to-people level," said Dr. Maciej Kozlowski, a former Polish ambassador to Israel who is now in charge of Polish contacts with the Jewish Diaspora at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "There are still a lot of prejudices and stereotypes that are dying very slowly and have to be eradicated," he concluded.

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