An Israeli man was indicted Thursday for spitting at the Polish ambassador to Israel in an incident on Tuesday that has caused a fresh diplomatic tempest between the two countries.
The man, Arik Lederman, 65, is charged with assault and threatening behavior. Police filed a request to release Lederman under restrictive conditions until the end of legal proceedings against him.
A source from the Polish Foreign Ministry told the Kan public broadcaster in response that “there is no such thing as a closed case” and that Warsaw would ask further questions of Jerusalem regarding the safety of diplomats.
According to the indictment, Lederman blocked Ambassador Marek Magierowski’s car outside the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv on Tuesday and banged on its roof. The ambassador then wound down the window to photograph him. Lederman opened the door and spat at the ambassador twice.
Magierowski has said all he could make out from Lederman’s shouting was “Polish, Polish.”
Lederman apologized Wednesday for the incident during a hearing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court after police arrested him.
Lederman’s attorney told the court at the hearing that he had gone to the Polish embassy to inquire about Jewish property abandoned after the Holocaust. He said the embassy guard addressed him with an anti-Jewish slur, calling him a “Zhid,” and refused him entry.
It was not clear whether Lederman speaks Polish. He said the guard “said a long sentence in Polish” at the end of which he heard the word “Zhid.”
Magierowski has rejected the claim as “bizarre.”
Justice Alaa Masarwe characterized the incident as a “road dispute” and not a politically motivated assault. While Masarwe said spitting at a diplomatic official in Israel was contemptible and embarrassing, he added that the suspect wouldn’t have been arrested had the Polish envoy not been involved.
At court Lederman said: “I want to express my apology for the event that happened last night. My family suffered the hardships of the Holocaust in Poland and I came to the embassy on the issue of restitution. During that I was subjected to derogatory treatment by one of the embassy employees who called me a ‘Zhid’ in Polish. That remark offended me very much.”
He said he then left the embassy and was walking on the road because the sidewalks were in bad shape, when “a vehicle came from behind me and honked at me loudly, frightening me. I expressed my anger in a way that I regret.”
“I want to clarify that I did not know about the identity or position of the man in the car, and definitely didn’t know he was the Polish ambassador to Israel. I would like to offer my sincere apology for what happened and I have asked my lawyers to contact the embassy offices to apologize to the ambassador. I hope that with that, the incident will reach its end and won’t be blown out of proportion.”
Lederman’s lawyer, David Johan, said it was an “isolated incident, an almost Kafkaesque story” that “somehow has been blown out of proportion.”
After the court hearing, Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement condemning the altercation, saying “any such acts directed against diplomatic agents deserve unequivocal condemnation.”
“Recognizing the prompt action of the Israeli police in apprehending the perpetrator, we call on the Israeli authorities to ensure that Polish diplomats are properly and effectively protected in Israel in the similar way as is the case with Israeli diplomats in Poland,” Warsaw said.
“We hope that the Israeli authorities will make every effort to bring those responsible to justice and to prevent similar incidents targeting Polish diplomats from happening again.”
Meanwhile Poland’s President Andrzej Duda called the incident “an anti-Polish act” and said he expected Israeli explanations.
“The Israeli authorities must clarify this matter as well as the services responsible for security in this country,” he said. “Unfortunately, everything indicates that it was an anti-Polish act, an act of hatred against us.”
He added: “Just as I fight all manifestations of anti-Semitism which I consider to be hideous and unworthy, I will not agree absolutely to any anti-Polish act.”
The incident came amid a bitter standoff between Poland and Israel over how to remember the Holocaust and over demands that Poland pay reparations for former Jewish properties that were seized by Nazi Germany and later nationalized by Poland’s communist regime.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki condemned the attack in a tweet, calling it “racist” and “xenophobic.”
I am very worried to hear of a racist attack on @PLinIsrael ambassador @mmagierowski. Poland strongly condemns this xenophobic act of aggression. Violence against diplomats or any other citizens should never be tolerated.
— Mateusz Morawiecki (@MorawieckiM) May 15, 2019
Poland’s foreign ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador in Warsaw, Anna Azari, to explain why the ambassador was assaulted.
Jewish groups — including the World Jewish Congress and Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis and Chief Rabbi of Moscow — also condemned the incident.
Israel and Poland have had fractious relations over the past few years, with the issue of Polish complicity in the Holocaust becoming a major sticking point in bilateral relations after the Polish government passed a law in 2018 prohibiting the ascribing of any responsibility for the genocide to the Polish nation.
Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.