ADL demands ouster of ultra-nationalist Polish minister

By ETGAR LEFKOVITS
September 14, 2006 01:03
2 minute read.

 
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The Anti-Defamation League called on the Polish government Wednesday to remove the head of a "far-right, anti-Semitic" party from his position as education minister. The recommendation, which was made in a new ADL report on anti-Semitism in Poland, comes two months after Ambassador to Poland David Peleg caused a diplomatic stir by publicly announcing that he was boycotting Polish Education Minister Roman Giertych of the League of Polish Families due to the party's extremist views. The report, "Poland: Democracy and the Challenge of Extremism," finds that anti-Semitism and intolerance in Poland have risen since the formation of a coalition government that includes two small ultra-nationalist parties. The report, which calls Giertych's party "steeped" in anti-Semitism, also urges the enforcement of laws on racism and anti-Semitism against a Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja, which is known for its anti-Semitic diatribes. "Since the formation of the coalition government in May, we have spoken out vocally and forcefully against the persistence of anti-Semitism and intolerance in Poland," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director. "Throughout, we have made the point that a large proportion of the Polish people are disturbed and outraged by these political views." Polish President Lech Kaczynski has repeatedly said there was "no room" for anti-Semitism in Poland. Kaczynski, who concluded a four-day state visit to Israel on Wednesday and has called Poland "Israel's best friend" in Europe, refrained from discussing the issue during his trip, calling it an internal Polish affair. Foxman, who was born in Poland and is a Holocaust survivor, said Poland remained vulnerable to nationalist extremism and "the deep roots" of anti-Semitism there. The appointment of the 35-year-old Giertych, whose party won 8 percent of the vote in last year's national election, as minister caused dismay among Israeli and Jewish officials. Their concern was compounded by the fact that the Polish Education Ministry was responsible for joint Israeli-Polish youth programs. The Polish government subsequently established a special department dealing with the youth groups that will work out of the Prime Minister's Office, in an effort to both assuage the Israeli criticism and to further broaden the youth programs. Giertych's grandfather was a staunch advocate of anti-Jewish boycotts, with his party rooted in a nationalist movement between the world wars that succeeded in segregating and limiting the number of Jews at Polish universities. In the past, the party's youth wing has employed Nazi salutes and chanted Nazi slogans. The Polish government's decision to form a coalition with two small populist parties, including the League of Polish Families, instead of joining forces with a competing center-right party, has been criticized both in Poland and elsewhere in Europe, where the focus of criticism has been on the minister's anti-homosexual views. In July, Giertych attended a memorial for hundreds of Jews killed by their Polish neighbors during World War II, in what was widely seen as an effort to prove that he was not an anti-Semite. The discord over his appointment follows a decade of burgeoning Israeli-Polish relations, with relations between the governments now considered to be among Israel's best in Europe.

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