Israel condemns Polish far-right march targeting both Muslims and Jews
Bigotry. Far-right protesters carry Polish flags and National Radical Camp flags during a rally in Warsaw, on November 11. (Reuters)
2017/11/19 Issue: 132 Page: 11
London- Israeli officials and commentators condemned a far-right march in Poland in which participants chanted anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim slogans.
The Independence Day march on November 11 in Warsaw was organised by groups that trace their roots to radical nationalist pre-second world war anti-Semitic groups.
Approximately 60,000 people, including families with children, took part. Young men carried banners with messages saying “White Europe of brotherly nations” or held flags with Celtic crosses, a symbol used by white supremacists.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called the event “a dangerous march of extreme and racist elements.”
“We hope that Polish authorities will act against the organisers. History teaches us that expressions of racist hate must be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” he said in a statement reported by the Associated Press.
One participant told the state broadcaster TVP that he was taking part “to remove Jewry from power.”
The event drew representatives of far-right parties from Britain, Hungary, Italy, Slovakia and other countries.
Participants marched under the slogan “We Want God” and spoke of standing against liberals and defending Christian values. Some of the protesters chanted “Pure white Europe — no Jews, no Muslims,” “Purify Poland” and “Refugees get out.”
One large banner in Gothic lettering read “Deus Vult,” which is Latin for “God wills it.” This was a cry used during the First Crusade in the 11th century, when a Christian army from Europe slaughtered Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land. In recent years, it has been used by the radical right to show hostility to Islam.
Nahshon tweeted that the march disproved “anyone who thinks that hatred of Muslims protects the Jews.”
Polish President Andrzej Duda said “there is no place in Poland” for xenophobia, pathological nationalism and anti-Semitism and that the country must remain a land open to all who want to come together and work for the good of the country.
Other members of Poland’s conservative government, however, described participants as patriots and played down the xenophobic messages.
The leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said there were “unfortunate incidents” during the march but he described them as a “marginal problem.”
The Polish Foreign Ministry had said it strongly condemned racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic ideas but insisted the march was largely an expression of patriotic feeling, calling it “a great celebration of Poles, differing in their views but united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland.”
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said: “It was a beautiful sight. We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”
“These marches have taken place in the past. This year’s was larger and its slogans more aggressive. Main reason is government support,” Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum wrote on Twitter.
Israel has had other problems with Poland recently. In October, the Israeli Ambassador to Poland Anna Azari lodged an official complaint with the Polish Foreign Ministry over a restitution law that allegedly “discriminates against Holocaust survivors,” the Jerusalem Post reported.
The law would require those seeking restitution to be Polish citizens living in the country and it excludes second-degree relatives — those other than parents, full siblings or children — Israeli officials said many Jewish claimants would lose out because they were not direct descendants of Holocaust victims.
The World Jewish Congress puts the number of Jews living in Poland at 5,000-20,000, the remainder of a community that numbered more than 3.3 million before the Holocaust.
There was also displeasure in Israel after Polish Minister of National Education Anna Zalewska awarded Polish historian Tomasz Panfil a medal “for special merits for education,” reported the Times of Israel. Panfil drew criticism when he wrote an article stating that the Nazi invasion of Poland was initially not so bad for Jews.
Israeli commentators fear that many Poles are unaware of the dangers of Nazi ideology towards minorities in the West.
“A poll from January 2015 revealed that only 33% of Poles currently associate Auschwitz with Jewish deaths, with 47% believing it to be primarily a site of Polish suffering,” wrote Maya Vinokour, a postdoctoral researcher in Slavic Studies, in the Israeli daily Haaretz.
“It is imperative to avoid historical half-truths today, when neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, and right-wing nationalists feel empowered to march on streets from Charlottesville to Warsaw. In an era of ‘post-truth,’ when easily inflamed passions seem immune to empirical evidence, we must forcefully oppose efforts to misinterpret history. Our future may depend on it,” added Vinokour.