December 7, 2017 — Warsaw, Poland
AJC Central Europe, together with the University of Warsaw’s Center for Research on Prejudice, cosponsored a seminar on “Antisemitism in Poland: Diagnosis, Consequences, and Methods of Prevention.”
The seminar took place amidst a rise in hate crimes targeting ethnic and religious minorities in Poland. In 2016, according to data collected by Poland’s national police, there were more than 700 incidents of religiously and racially motivated hate crimes, 10 percent of them anti-Semitic.
In addition, a study by the Center for Research on Prejudice found that almost 30 percent of Poles said they would not accept a Jew as a co-worker and would prefer not to have a Jewish neighbor. More than half would not agree to a family member marrying a person of Jewish origin.
“Due to the unique heritage and historical trauma in Poland, we have a special duty to be alarmed when the demons of anti-Semitism raise their head,” said AJC Central Europe Director Agnieszka Markiewicz. “The manner in which anti-Semitism is addressed is a litmus test of our democracy and public institutions. Anti-Semitism is a problem for all of Polish society, not just for Jews.”
Seminar participants discussed an updated assessment of anti-Semitism in Poland and the effectiveness of countermeasures.
One key conclusion was the need for Poland to officially adopt the Working Definition of anti-Semitism that was adopted last year by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. Poland is a member of the IHRA. To date, the definition has been adopted by the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Romania, and Bulgaria. “The working definition is an important tool in identifying and fighting anti-Semitism, especially for law enforcement agencies and the judiciary,” said Markiewicz.
“Poles today are more willing to express discriminatory views, and many of them are indifferent to verbal and physical violence,” said Michał Bilewicz, Director of the Center for Research on Prejudice. “With anti-Jewish hatred on the internet increasing, people have become less sensitive to anti-Semitism.”
Seminar participants represented diverse public, religious, and academic institutions, as well as NGOs.
Professor Magdalena Gawin, Undersecretary of State at Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, stressed the importance of discussing outlawing extremist organizations such as ONR (National Radical Camp) and the left-wing Antifa. “It is impossible to eradicate anti-Semitism with law enforcement alone. It is most of all a matter of proper education, on both the national and local levels,” said Gawin.
Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, stressed that the very fact of holding the seminar was very important. He emphasized that to fight anti-Semitism one cannot rely on emotions, but must also know the facts and follow the results of research. Schudrich also noted that many Poles are “anti-anti-Semites,” which, he added, “gives me hope.”
A significant part of the day’s discussion centered on the institutions that represent the Jewish community and the bodies that shape Poland’s public sphere – the Parliament, the police, and the Catholic Church.
Ombudsman Adam Bodnar said that recent anti-Semitic incidents in Poland “raise a question of state policy consistency.” He pointed out the lack of immediate reaction to racist slogans and banners at the March of Independence and called President Andrzej Duda’s condemnation of racism “very important.”
Agreeing with Dr. Bodnar was Mieczysław Cisło, former President of the Council for Religious Dialogue and the Committee for Dialogue with Judaism at the Episcopal Conference of Poland. Cislo stressed that anti-Semitism must be publicly condemned. “The Catholic Church denounces all forms of racism and anti-Semitism,” he said.
Assistant Inspector Gerard Bah, Human Rights Protection Representative of the Voivodeship Police Commissioner in Kielce, stressed that people are afraid to report incidents of hate speech because they do not want to be ridiculed. He also said that as a society, Poles have a problem with the radicalization of the younger generation. “Teachers must tell pupils patriotism, yes -- nationalism, no,” he said.
Among others attending the seminar were Chief Commissioner Magdalena Kroll, National Coordinator for Hate Crime, National Police Headquarters; and MP Michał Szczerba, head of the Polish-Israeli Parliamentary Group.
Seminar participants agreed that:
-- Legal steps need to be taken against fringe right-wing groups that will lead to disbanding them.
-- Any time anti-Semitism is preached in public or Jews experience violence, state authorities should act swiftly and unequivocally condemn those responsible.
-- Civil society organizations should continue to appeal to government officials to pursue a consistent policy against the spread of xenophobia.
The seminar will be followed up by meetings of smaller groups of experts, which will produce a multidimensional report that includes the results of earlier studies as well as guidelines for state and local authorities on how to effectively identify and react to anti-Semitic acts, and take preventive measures.