Poland’s Walesa raps anti-Semitism in priest row
By Anthony Barker
WARSAW, June 20 (Reuter) – Polish President Lech Walesa,
reacting to a growing outcry over remarks about Jews in a sermon
by his parish priest, said on Tuesday that anti-Semitism was
despicable and he would never tolerate it.
“I am convinced that all manifestations of anti-Semitism,
both in Poland and around the world, should be met with general
contempt and condemnation,” Walesa said in a statement issued
by his press office.
PAP news agency reported that Walesa also assured Israel
parliament Speaker Shevach Weiss, who telephoned him over the
issue, that “so long as I am president I will not allow
manifestations of anti-Semitism in Poland.”
At a Mass attended by Walesa earlier this month, Catholic
priest Henryk Jankowski equated the Jewish star of David symbol
with the Nazi swastika and the Communist hammer and sickle.
Jankowski also urged Poles to keep people who secretly owe
allegiance to Israel or Russia out of their governments —
apparently echoing a view held by some extreme right-wingers
that Jews exert a sinister influence on Polish administrations.
Spokesmen of Poland’s few thousand Jews expressed concern
when Walesa did not quickly distance himself from the remarks.
The sermon unleashed a wave of criticism from other public
figures and senior churchmen, including the priest’s superior,
Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski of Gdansk.
Walesa initially declined to comment, then appeared to
defend the controversial priest, once his close ally in the
Solidarity movement’s pre-1989 battle against communist rule.
“I have known Father Henryk Jankowski for a long time, I
consider him my friend and I know one thing: he is no
anti-Semite,” Walesa told state television at the weekend,
adding that the sermon may have been misinterpreted.
In his Tuesday statement, however, Walesa said the sermon
had aroused public unease over Polish-Jewish relations and a
clear statement of Poland’s views was needed.
He said he had worked to keep alive the memory of the
Holocaust and promote good relations with Jews and with Israel.
Most of Poland’s three million Jews were murdered by Nazi
occupation forces during World War Two and thousands of
survivors left during an anti-Jewish campaign mounted by a
nationalist faction of the ruling Communist Party in 1968.
“The memory lives of the terrible crime to which, during
the Second World War, millions of sons and daughters of the
Jewish nation fell victim,” Walesa said.
“As a Pole and a Christian I regard the Star of David as a
great symbol of faith and the Jewish community, which should be
surrounded by respect,” Walesa’s statement said.
A Jewish Student Union in the city of Wroclaw plans to take
Jankowski to court and the justice ministry has said such
offences should be punished.
Jankowski has remained unrepentant. On Sunday, he told his
congregation that many Jews acted as if they were above
criticism and labelled all critics as anti-Semites.
He has also issued a statement saying the greed of some
Jewish financiers had been responsible for much human misery and
had led to the growth of communism and World War Two.
PAP said Israel had on Tuesday forwarded a protest to Walesa
through its embassy over the lack of official action.
(c) Reuter, June 20, 1995