After the incident, rabbi lights the candles again

Far-right Polish lawmaker extinguishes Hanukkah candles in parliament

Grzegorz Braun, who claims there’s a plot to turn Poland into a ‘Jewish state,’ calls candle lighting ‘satanic worship’; parliament cuts his salary as penalty

Screen capture from video of Polish ultra far-right lawmaker Grzegorz Braun from Confederation (Konfederacja) using a fire extinguisher to put out a Hanukkah menorah placed in the parliament lobby, Warsaw, Poland, on December 12, 2023. (TVN24/AFP)
Screen capture from video of Polish ultra far-right lawmaker Grzegorz Braun from Confederation (Konfederacja) using a fire extinguisher to put out a Hanukkah menorah placed in the parliament lobby, Warsaw, Poland, on December 12, 2023. (TVN24/AFP)

A far-right lawmaker in the Polish parliament on Tuesday used a fire extinguisher to put out candles on a menorah that was lit for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, creating disruption and scandal as a new pro-EU government was beginning its work.

All major political forces quickly denounced the unprecedented incident by Grzegorz Braun, one of the most controversial lawmakers in parliament, and said there would be no tolerance for antisemitic and xenophobic behavior in parliament.

Braun, a pro-Russian member of the Confederation party, has in the past claimed that there is a plot to turn Poland into a “Jewish state” and has called for homosexuality to be criminalized.

“Those who take part in acts of satanic worship should be ashamed,” Braun said following the incident, shaking hands with other far-right representatives as he left the hall.

The speaker of the parliament, Szymon Holownia, called the act “absolutely scandalous” and excluded Braun from the day’s parliamentary session, expressing hopes that “he will not return soon.” He said he was reporting him to prosecutors.

Parliament also slapped the highest possible financial penalty on Braun, forcing him to lose half of three months of his salary and per diems for half a year.

“Poland is home to all religions,” Holownia said.

According to video footage of the incident, Braun grabbed a red fire extinguisher and put out candles on the menorah. A cloud of smoke, haze and white powder filled the area.

Every year, members of the Jewish community attend the menorah lighting in the parliament.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler, who led the Hanukkah ceremony on the sixth night of the weeklong festival as he has done for 17 years, told The Associated Press the celebration took place peacefully and had just ended when suddenly chaos broke out and he became aware that Braun was putting out the candles.

People begged him to stop and a woman, a member of the Jewish community, tried to stop Braun. Kickback smoke from the extinguisher went into her face and she needed medical attention afterward.

“He was doing it in a very brutal way,” Stambler added, speaking of Braun.

The incident disrupted an important day in Poland’s parliament when newly elected Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk gave his inaugural speech. Tusk pledged in his speech that his government would demand that the Western world keep up its help for Ukraine and that it would be a stable ally to the United States and NATO.

He strongly condemned the antisemitic incident, saying: “This is unacceptable, this must never happen again. This is a disgrace.”

The incident delayed a vote of confidence in his government, and even the parliamentary group of Braun’s party condemned his behavior.

Stambler, a rabbi for the Chabad community, said it felt like Braun wanted to disrupt a day when many people were happy after Tusk was elected and gave his inaugural speech to parliament.

“Somebody was trying to destroy it,” Stambler said. “And I think the impact is the opposite. Now there will be even more awareness of how much tolerance is needed, how it is important.”

Rabbi Shalom Ber Stambler lights candles of a menorah again after an incident in which a far-right lawmaker put out the candles, in Warsaw, Poland, December 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

In an interview with The Guardian, Stambler said Braun was “an antisemite who wanted to attract attention,” but that the incident led to expressions of solidarity from Polish society.

“We’ve been doing it for 17 years, and… every time it was easy to arrange and MPs from different parties would join and respect,” he said.

After the incident, Stambler lit the candles again.

“SHAME. A Polish parliament member just did this. Few minutes after we celebrated Chanukah there,” wrote Israel’s Ambassador to Poland Yacov Livne on X.

US Ambassador Mark Brzezinski posted: “I am outraged by the nasty antisemitic act committed today by one of the Polish members of parliament.”

The incident was also denounced by Poland’s Catholic church.

“I am ashamed and I apologize to the whole Jewish community in Poland,” tweeted Cardinal Grzegorz Rys, who leads a committee for dialogue with Judaism.

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