Polish president: We're Israel's best friend in Europe

Katsav praises country's willingness to send troops to Lebanon.

Polish President 298.88 (do not publish again) (photo credit: Flash 90)
Polish President 298.88 (do not publish again)
(photo credit: Flash 90)
"Szalom Panie Prezydencie," (Peace, Mr. President) Polish President Lech Kaczynski said in an enthusiastic response to the warm welcome that he and his wife Maria received from President Moshe Katsav and his wife Gila during a visit to Beit Hanassi on Monday. In greeting Kaczynski, Katsav declared that "Poland is a true friend of Israel, and this visit is yet another expression of the good relations between the two countries." Israel has a great interest in expanding these relations on many levels, he said, but especially in the areas of politics, economics and culture. Katsav noted the marked improvement in relations between Israel and Poland in recent years, but stressed that there was room for even more improvement. In a reference to his own visits to Poland, he said that such visits and meetings with the Polish leadership as well as Kaczynski's visit to Israel contributed to the enhancement of mutual understanding so important to both countries. "Our relations are based on a thousand years of shared history," he said, and spoke of the pain of remembrance of the greatest tragedy in Jewish history when the Nazis attempted to exterminate the Jewish People on Polish soil. Katsav commended the Polish government for its determination to eradicate anti-Semitism. "You cannot instill universal values if you have anti-Semitism in the air," he said. Poland, like Israel wants to broaden bilateral relations responded Kaczynski, adding that while relations today were good, they must be intensified. "Poland relates to Israel as a country in which Poland has a special interest," he said. It is no secret that Poland also has good relations with the Palestinian Authority and with Arab states, he added, "but Israel is most important to us because of our common history." Kaczynski made several references to the intertwining of Polish and Jewish history. Regarding Jews murdered by the Nazis on Polish soil, Kaczynski clarified that while there were several European regimes which collaborated with the Nazis even before the war, the Polish government did not, and when German troops entered Poland in September 1939, Poland went to war against the German Reich. In their private conversation, Katsav and Kaczynski discussed bilateral, regional and global issues, specifically the Iranian threat to the world at large, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Poland's contribution to peace-keeping efforts in southern Lebanon. They also discussed a bilateral agreement for youth exchanges that is to be signed during Kaczynski's stay in Israel. When they emerged and spoke to the media, Katsav applauded Poland's willingness to send forces to keep the peace and maintain stability in southern Lebanon. If necessary, he said Poland would send additional forces to Lebanon and would use its ground and air capabilities in defense of peace. "We want to be active in preserving peace," he said, adding: "Whoever says that Poland is Israel's best friend in Europe is telling the truth. It's only natural for us." Asked whether Poland would be involved in efforts to secure the release of the three abducted Israeli soldiers, Kaczynski gave assurances that Poland would assist in every way possible in coordination with the Israeli authorities. Kaczynski was less forthcoming when asked whether Poland intended to replace Education Minister Roman Giertych, who is perceived in some circles as an anti-Semite. Kaczynski stated that it was an internal Polish matter, but made it clear that Giertych would not be replaced. Moreover, he said, Giertych has not recently made any anti-Semitic remarks. On a related issue, Kaczynski was asked about anti-Semitic incidents in his country such as the attack on Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich, who is in Israel with the presidential delegation. Affirming his deep respect for Schudrich with whom he has worked closely for five years, Kaczynski said that had the assault occurred in any other European country, there would not have been such a speedy and intensive manhunt for the perpetrator, who was arrested and given a much stiffer sentence than would ordinarily be the case for a crime of this nature.