Nationalist leader Giertych rejects anti-Semitism - what about his party?

Ceremonies have taken place in Jedwabne on Monday to mark the 65th anniversary of the tragic death of its Jewish inhabitants at the hands of their Polish neighbors. The Jedwabne mass murder has cast a shadow over Polish-Israeli relations for long decades. Five years ago, President Aleksander Kwasniewski apologised for the German inspired killing of some 400 Jews by the Poles during World War Two. Representing the Polish authorities at yesterday's remembrance ceremonies has been deputy premier Roman Giertych.

Roman Giertych's appearance in Jedwabne had been a public manifestation of his views on Jewish issues. The Deputy premier and education minister, hailing from the nationalist Legaue of Polish Families (LPR) had been the target of Israeli criticism for his alleged anti-Semitic sentiments expressed in the past and family record for such views. Though unofficial, pressure had been exerted on Warsaw authorities to recall Giertych from his post. Addressing the media gathered in Jedwabne Giertych said he had come to repeatedly search for understanding with Israel.

' I wanted to firmly state there is and cannot be any place for anti-Semitism in Poland. Hence my extended hand and an occasion for prayer, reflection and remembrance of those who had been cruelly murdered at a time when the Polish state, being torn apart by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, could not provide effective protection for them.'

Israeli ambassador to Poland David Peleg says the statement corresponds directly with declarations by Polish president Lech Kaczynski.

' When I met with president Kaczynski about six weeks ago, he emphasized to me and then also publicly that there is no place for anti-Semitism in Poland. We very much welcomed his statement which we trust will also be translated in the various fields of life here (in Poland). Of course, we think that anyone and anywhere who speaks against anti-Semitism is doing a good thing.'

Putting no doubt to Roman Giertych's intentions, the question arises whether the statement in Jedwabne has been only of personal nature and a reflection of the Warsaw government's stand, or is it also shared by the League of Polish Families chaired by Mr. Giertych and the All Poland Youth, an organization closely linked to his party. Ambassador David Peleg.

' We do not have any personal quarrel with Mr. Giertych. The issue is of his party and its ideology, which dates back to pre Second World War time with statements of senior members of the party until these days. Also with the activities of the youth movement which he recreated a few years ago, which makes very extreme statements. So, I think the issues he should address himself are the issues of his party and the youth movement and their activities.'

Now it remains for Roman Giertych to show whether his statement condemning anti-Semitic practices has only been a politically correct verbal declaration, or if he will prove its worth by eradicating them from his own party ranks. It would be most unfortunate to leave an unnecessary thorn in the generally good Polish-Israeli relations, especially in view of the October scheduled visit to Tel Aviv by Polish president Lech Kaczynski.