Earlier this week, Conservative Polish President, Andrzej Duda, took time during his visit to the United Nations to meet with a group of Jewish leaders – resulting in a story titled “Polish President says Israel is responsible for recent antisemitic attacks in Poland” and a subheadline “Fighting Words”:
In a meeting with American Jewish leaders at the Polish Consulate in New York on Wednesday, Polish President Andrzej Duda bemoaned what he called Israel’s lack of regret over its assertion regarding Polish participation in the Holocaust.
Earlier this year, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz came under fire from Polish leaders for repeating former Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s claim that Poles “suckle antisemitism with their mother’s milk.”
According to several participants in the meeting, Duda suggested that Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s comments earlier this year about Polish antisemitism were a “humiliation” and were the reason for an increase in antisemitic attacks against Jews in Poland.
The Polish leader also told the group — which included representatives of AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League — that people in his country had advised him not to travel to Israel until Katz apologizes for the comment.
A kerfuffle broke out over the president’s comments, according to two witnesses at the meeting who described the scene to Jewish Insider. Holocaust survivor Edward Mosberg, who was recently awarded Poland’s Order of Merit, defended the president’s comments and stated that Israeli Jews “like Israel Katz” are responsible for the rise in antisemitism.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, according to the source, cut Mosberg off, saying he couldn’t let his comments go unchallenged.
Not only has Duda denied he blamed Katz’s comments for an increase in antisemitic attacks in Poland, Rabbi Boteach has now written his report from the meeting for “Jerusalem Post” to set the record straight. It bears quoting at length:
For the past few years, during the week of the United Nations General Assembly, the Polish President has invited Jewish leaders for a dialogue. His gesture at dialogue deserves better than this incomplete report. I attended the meeting which was amicable and respectful.
It opened with the President offering brief introductory remarks.
When he finished and opened it to questions, I jumped in to thank him for all the Polish government has done to honor the memory of the three million Polish Jews — half of the Holocaust victims — who were murdered in the German extermination camps. Two years ago I traveled throughout Europe to many of the horrible sites related to the Holocaust, everywhere from Hitler’s birthplace to the bunker where he committed suicide, the camps and the memorials, all of which I write about in my forthcoming book, Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell. It was especially striking how much more effort the Poles have made to preserve the sites of the atrocities and memorialize the victims, especially the Jews. The Polish government is rarely given its due for its commitment…
A few more questions from Jewish leaders followed and then President Duda raised an issue that was on his mind. Several months ago, on his first day on the job, Israel’s Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said in an interview, “We will neither forgive nor forget, and there were many Poles who collaborated with the Nazis. How did Yitzhak Shamir put it – they killed his father – ‘the Poles suckle antisemitism with their mother’s milk.’”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki was very upset and canceled plans to attend a meeting of the leaders of central European EU members in Israel.
The president told our group the Polish people were incredibly offended by Katz’s remark. He said many Poles had told him he should not visit Israel until Katz apologizes. Duda seemed disappointed not only that Katz has not apologized but also that not enough people have spoken out against his remarks.
I jumped in again and pointed out that many people in the room had spoken out against Katz’s comments. I said at the time that his remarks were unacceptable and unfortunate. I told President Duda that the Foreign Minister’s statement in which he collectively blamed all Poles as being antisemitic was, obviously, not just factually wrong but an affront to Jewish values. Judaism judges each person by their individual actions. We always reject collective guilt.
Going back to last February, I told the Jerusalem Post at the time that Katz’s comments were particularly misguided coming at a time when the Polish government had made the incredibly courageous decision to host a conference in Warsaw – which I attended – holding Iran accountable for their aggression against Israel. The conference, which was attended by Vice President Pence, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Jared Kushner, Jason Greenblatt, and the foreign ministers of many Arab states was unprecedented. Why would Katz have chosen to attack Poland – especially with words that deeply contravene Jewish values – at that precise moment? It was mind-boggling. I was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying that Prime Minister Morawiecki had just “showed great moral courage in convening an international conference with the United States to counter Iranian aggression and genocidal threats to Israel and the Jewish people.”
The conversation continued with the other Jewish leaders and then Edward Mosberg stood up to speak. Mosberg is a well-known holocaust survivor and someone who commands respect as an eloquent witness to the decimation of our people. A man in his 90s, a successful real estate developer in New Jersey, and a survivor of multiple camps and philanthropist, he speaks every year at March of the Living and his fire-and-brimstone speeches rattle the crowd with the depth of the horrors of what the holocaust represents and what he experienced.
He was born in Poland and is close to the Polish government. He was wearing the Order of Merit medal they had given him. He started to speak and mentioned that Katz’s comments had created antisemitism in Poland.
The more he said and the insinuation that Jews are responsible for any Polish antisemitism, the more uncomfortable I began to feel.
Mosberg repeated that the antisemitism in Poland was instigated by the Jews.
Mosberg is special man, a Holocaust survivor. He has witnessed horrors that I can scarcely comprehend. But I could no longer hear someone saying that antisemitism is caused by Jews and I shouted across the room, “Eddie, you’re a hero of the Jewish people. But you’re wrong. We Jews are not responsible for antisemitism. Antisemites are responsible for antisemitism.”
At that point the meeting began to break up. An hour had elapsed. The president needed to leave and the discussion was moving in an unfortunate direction.
So according to Boteach, while President Duda expressed dismay about the blanket accusation of anti-Semitism thrown at the Poles by the Israeli Foreign Minister, it was Edward Mosberg and only Edward Mosberg who suggested that statements like that are in effect causing anti-Semitism as a reaction.
Who knows who the anonymous sources were that “Jewish Insider” drew upon in their original report, and whether it was a case of mishearing and confusion or some troubling political agendas, but the story has quickly gone around the world, with in Rabbi Boteach’s words “the media… blowing up” with outrage about the Polish President’s outrageous remarks. It certainly feeds the narrative that anti-Semitism in Poland is not just a marginal phenomenon among extreme nationalists and football hooligans but is all-pervasive and institutionalised; that Poles do indeed suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.
I can only speak for myself, but my mother’s milk was pretty anti-Semitism free. We need less focus on infancy and more on maturing.