The office of Polish President Andrzej Duda on Friday denied a report that the president had blamed Israel for recent anti-Semitic incidents in the country in a meeting with American Jewish officials, saying the claim was “plainly not true.”
A report on the Jewish Insider website, citing several sources who attended Wednesday’s New York meeting with top community officials, said Duda claimed offensive comments by Israel’s foreign minister had caused an increase in anti-Semitism in Poland.
Spokesman Blazej Spychalski told The Times of Israel: “The quote is not only inaccurate. It is plainly not true. President Duda never said that ‘Israel is responsible for recent anti-Semitic attacks in Poland.’ All participants of the said meeting can corroborate this. The ‘Jewish Insider’ made this up.”
In February Foreign Minister Israel Katz, then acting foreign minister, inflamed tensions with Warsaw when, quoting late prime minister Yitzhak Shamir, he said “Poles suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”
Duda was said to have told the Jewish representatives in attendance Wednesday that those comments were a “humiliation” to Poland and had encouraged anti-Semitism.
The Jewish Insider report claimed that this viewpoint was adopted by Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg, also at the meeting, who said Israeli Jews like Katz were to blame for rising anti-Semitism.
In February the 93-year-old Mosberg, who has participated for years in the annual March of the Living through the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz, and who recently received Poland’s highest honor, the ‘Order of Merit,’ called Katz “a stupid idiot” for his comments.
The reported comments by the Polish president blaming Israel for anti-Semitic incidents in his own country were said to have provoked a shocked and angry response by several participants at the meeting, with the Jewish Insider mentioning a strong rebuke from prominent American Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.
Boteach, however, said Friday that widespread reporting on Duda’s comments in the dialogue meeting with US Jewish leaders — a meeting which he described as amicable and respectful — was “incomplete,” though he did not directly quote what the Polish president had said.
In an op-ed piece he sent to The Times of Israel, Boteach hailed Duda’s ongoing outreach to Jewish leadership and Warsaw’s commitment to memorializing the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. He then appeared to at least partially corroborate reporting on Duda expressing his frustration with Katz’s comments. “The president told our group the Polish people were incredibly offended by Katz’s remark,” write Boteach. “He said many Poles had told him he should not visit Israel until Katz apologizes. Duda seemed disappointed not only that Katz has not apologized but also that not enough people have spoken out against his remarks.”
Boteach specified that Mosberg had blamed Jews for rising anti-Semitism. (Boteach said he himself retorted “Eddie, you’re a hero of the Jewish people. But you’re wrong.”)
He said the meeting then broke up, making no further mention of Duda’s alleged comments, and leaving it somewhat unclear whether he was denying such statements had been made.
Responding to the report prior to the Polish denial, MK Yair Lapid, no.2 in the Blue and White party, said: “No Mr. Duda, Israel is not responsible for anti-Semitic incidents in Poland. The ones responsible are anti-Semitic Poles — like those who aided in the murder of Jews in the Holocaust.”
Katz’s February comments infuriated Warsaw, which pulled out of a Jerusalem summit with central European nations. The top diplomat later struck a more conciliatory tone, hailing the two nations’ close cooperation, but did not apologize.
Warsaw has long been at pains to state that Poland did not collaborate as a nation in the Holocaust, although individual Poles committed what the Polish ambassador to Israel described as “abominable crimes.”
Israel and Poland have seen diplomatic tensions over Polish officials’ rejection of any culpability by the nation for anti-Semitic atrocities of the past. Last year the government introduced a controversial law that forbids blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes (though the legislation was softened following Israeli pressure to remove punitive measures).
The ruling Law and Justice Party has also campaigned heavily against Jewish Holocaust restitution claims, leading Jewish leaders to warn the debate had turned anti-Semitic. May saw thousands of Polish nationalists march to the US Embassy to protest US pressure on Poland to compensate Jews whose families lost property during the Holocaust. It appeared to be one of the largest anti-Jewish street demonstrations in recent times.