Israel condemns Polish far-right march targeting both Muslims and Jews

November 19, 2017
Bigotry. Far-right protesters carry Polish flags and National Radical Camp flags during a rally in Warsaw, on November 11. (Reuters)

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.