Poles increasingly put off by visiting Israeli groups

'Israeli kids run amok in Poland,' newspaper reports; Shin Bet guards allegedly abuse and humiliate locals.

Israelis in Poland 298.8 (photo credit: Yedid)
Israelis in Poland 298.8
(photo credit: Yedid)
Alleged misbehavior by Israeli teenagers visiting Poland and their Shin Beit (Israel Security Agency) guards is casting a shadow over relations between the two nations, Poland's ambassador here and Israel's ambassador there have both warned. There has also been a rise in the number of reports in the Polish media regarding the disorderly behavior of such visitors. About 25,000 teens go on group visits to Poland each year, to see concentration camps and historic Jewish communities, and to learn about the Holocaust. Poland's ambassador to Israel, Agnieszka Magdziak-Miszewska, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that "high level relations [between Poland and Israel] are not in danger, but the image of Israel in Poland is." An article that appeared last week in the Przekroj newspaper accused Israeli teens visiting Poland on Holocaust-related programs of traumatizing locals and trashing hotel rooms. Their behavior, coupled with what the article described as questionable action by their Shin Bet guards, prompted Israeli Ambassador to Poland David Peleg to question the future of bilateral ties, saying in a statement earlier this week that the "relationship between Israel and Poland is in danger." The Przekroj article, entitled "Young Israelis run amok in Poland," describes teens playing soccer in hotel hallways at 2 a.m., "burning carpets, breaking furniture, and leaving a mess in their beds and sinks." Some teens were accused of hiring a stripper, and others were said to have humiliated flight attendants while flying with Lot Polish Airlines. This behavior, Magdziak-Miszewska told the Post, was due to the inability of some visitors to properly channel their feelings. "For some of the kids, the pressure is too high going from one death camp to another... Some express their anger and sorrow in the way we saw in the article. It doesn't mean that every group behaves like that. There is a need for Polish and Israeli officials to work better together," she said. The article also called into question the methods of the Shin Bet guards who accompany the groups, citing witnesses who claim that they were beaten by guards and were subjected to humiliating security checks. Magdziak-Miszewska said this must change. "The Israeli security does not want to listen or adjust their [methods]. There are cases in which there are no physical or personal dangers, and because the security [agents] do not understand the Poles, it is seen as a threat," she said. Magdziak-Miszewska told the Post that a joint Polish-Israeli effort was in the works to better train Israeli security personnel headed to Poland. "We will sign an agreement with the Israeli security services," because as it is now, "they do not speak the language and do not know our customs," she said. Such a program would improve the guards' situation management and the negative perception Israelis have of Poland, which lead to an over-estimation of the "dangers" there. "Israelis are convinced that Poland is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, so they [the students] need to feel protected. But we are allies. How is it possible that kids are guarded as if they are in an enemy country? We are not in the West Bank. Poland is not Jenin or Nablus," Magdziak-Miszewska said. Polish officials involved in the planning of the visits told Przekroj the teenagers only visited concentration camps. "From that perspective, Poland looks like one big Jewish cemetery, nothing more," said Ilona Dworak-Cousin, chairwoman of the Israel-Poland Friendship Association. Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuav questioned the credibility of the Polish article, but said that the incidents it described would be investigated.