Polish Jews sound alarm over racism in meeting with ruling party leader

But Law and Justice Party’s Jaroslaw Kaczynski denies Jewish delegation claim that they discussed ‘growing intolerance’

Cnaan Liphshiz is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Demonstrators burn flares and wave Polish flags during the annual march to commemorate Poland's National Independence Day in Warsaw on November 11, 2017. (AFP/Janke )
Demonstrators burn flares and wave Polish flags during the annual march to commemorate Poland's National Independence Day in Warsaw on November 11, 2017. (AFP/Janke )

JTA — Leaders of Polish Jewry said they flagged what they termed rising intolerance in the country during a meeting with a ruling party politician, but the party denied the subject was broached.

Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Leslaw Piszewski, the president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland, met Friday with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a founder of the Law and Justice Party, to discuss various topics, including the “issue of growing intolerance toward various minorities, including the Jews,” Schudrich told JTA Monday.

But in an interview with the PAP news agency, Kaczynski denied this issue ever came up.

“We talked about the safety of Jewish communities and objects, but there was absolutely no mention of any growing climate of intolerance in Poland,” he was quoted as saying. He added the two communal leaders said Poland was safer for Jews than many other countries in Europe with large Muslim populations.

Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich speaks during an event gathering nearly 50 elderly Christian Poles who saved Jews during World War II, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, July 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

The Friday meeting followed nationalist marches in Warsaw and Wroclav on November 11 in which some marchers carried banners against Muslims and chanted slogans against Jews. However, Schudrich said, it had been scheduled before the march took place.

Asked what he told Kaczynski about the march, Schudrich said: “I spoke to him about it in my way, which is to say the Jewish community valued the principled stance that some Polish leading politicians took in rejecting the expressions of racism on display.”

President Andrzej Duda last week wrote on Twitter: “In our country there is no place or consent for xenophobia, radical nationalism, anti-Semitism.”

Schudrich and Piszewski were among the Polish Jews who accused the communal leaders who met Kaczynski in August of falsely claiming to represent a broad constituency without properly addressing communal concerns over the alleged growth of xenophobia in Poland.

The leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party Jaroslaw Kaczynski gives a speech denouncing anti-Semitism and praising Israel at a ceremony honoring Poles who protected Jews during the Holocaust, in Warsaw, Poland, September 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

At the August meeting with Kaczynski were Artur Hofman, the president of the TSKZ Jewish cultural group — which is Poland’s largest Jewish organization with 1,200 members; two rabbis from Chabad; and the founder of the Holocaust commemoration group From the Depths, Jonny Daniels.

It followed a letter sent earlier in August by Piszewski and another communal leader to Kaczynski, saying Polish Jews are increasingly fearful due to rising anti-Semitism and government inaction.

After the meeting with Kaczynski, Hofman dismissed that letter and accused its authors of exaggerating the country’s anti-Semitism problem as part of a “political war” on the right-wing ruling party.

Sergiusz Kowalski, who also had alerted the government about anti-Semitism as the president of the Polish branch of B’nai B’rith, blasted the group who met with Kaczynski in August, calling them “court Jews.”

The meeting sent a “message that went into the world: ‘We very much have our Jews who love Law and Justice and we have an anti-Semitism problem,’” Kowalski told the NaTemat news website. “Such court Jews were long used” by the authorities.

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