Israeli arrested for spitting at Polish ambassador, sparking diplomatic tempest

Israeli arrested for spitting at Polish ambassador, sparking diplomatic tempest

Poland condemns ‘racist’ attack, summons Israeli envoy in protest; Foreign Ministry expresses shock; suspect apologizes, claims he was called a ‘Zhid’ by security guard

Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski in Jerusalem on October 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Polish Ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski in Jerusalem on October 11, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Poland’s ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, said he was assaulted Tuesday afternoon by a man in the street near the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv.

Magierowski said that he was outside the embassy building on Soutine Street when a man assaulted him and shouted at him.

The ambassador said that all he could make out from the shouting was “Polish, Polish,” but managed to take a picture of the attacker and his vehicle, which he then handed over to police.

Police on Wednesday morning said they had arrested a man whom they suspect spat at the ambassador’s car.

The man Arik Lederman, 65, said later that an embassy guard addressed him as a “Zhid” when he visited the embassy — an assertion the ambassador later dismissed — and that the ambassador’s car beeped at him. His lawyer said he had apologized for the incident, and that he had no idea that the ambassador was in the car.

A Channel 12 report said Lederman apparently briefly “lost control” after being insulted, and banged on the roof of the ambassador’s car, and that the ambassador then wound down the window to photograph him. Lederman then opened the door and spat in the ambassador’s face, the TV report said.

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.”

Poland’s foreign ministry summoned the Israeli ambassador in Warsaw, Anna Azari, to explain why the ambassador was assaulted.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the assault was being investigated and expressed “fullest sympathy to the ambassador and our shock at the attack.”

He later reiterated the statement in response to Morawiecki’s tweet, while vowing to update Polish officials on the investigation.

Lederman’s attorney told the court at his remand 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 that the ambassador’s driver beeped his car horn at him as he walked on the street outside.

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court released Lederman from custody, saying the case was not complex and there was little risk that Lederman would be able to obstruct the investigation.

“There is no doubt,” Judge Alaa Masarwa’a wrote, “that an assault and spitting at a diplomatic personage is contemptible, and makes the [assailant] an embarrassment to the rest of Israel’s citizens.”

Magierowski, 48, a former journalist and foreign policy columnist, began his diplomatic career in 2015 and was an undersecretary of state for foreign affairs before becoming ambassador to Israel in June 2018.

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.

Swastikas and slogans drawn on the gate of the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv, found on February 18, 2018. (Israel Police)

Shortly after the law was passed, the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv was vandalized with swastikas and anti-Polish graffiti scrawled on a building gate.

A public opinion survey commissioned by the Polish Embassy in Tel Aviv in 2019 showed that one in two Israelis has a negative opinion of Poland, although a large majority believe that Poles, too, suffered at the hands of the Nazis.

In February, Morawiecki, the Polish premier, canceled a trip to Israel for a high-level summit in a diplomatic spat over comments made by Netanyahu on Polish collaboration with the Nazis.

In April, the World Jewish Congress condemned a Polish town after reports that residents hung and burnt an effigy “made to look like a stereotypical Jew” in a revival of an old Easter tradition.

More recently, on Monday Warsaw canceled a visit by Israeli officials who intended to raise the issue of the restitution of Jewish properties seized during the Holocaust, a matter Poland insists is closed, despite being the only European Union country that hasn’t passed laws regulating the compensation of looted or national property.

Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.

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