Bowing to Surge of Protest, Poland Retracts Arafat’s Invite to Auschwitz

Nobel Peace Prize or not, Jewish groups were not pleased to learn that Polish President Lech Walesa had intended to invite Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat to attend ceremonies in January marking the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Bowing to a surge of international protest, Walesa has apparently changed his mind.

Walesa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for his leadership of the Solidarity union movement in Poland, reportedly had planned to invite all living winners of the award to the Jan. 27 event.

But the Polish president has backed down on the Arafat invitation, according to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the World Jewish Congress, whose executive director, Elan Steinberg, received the world last Friday from officials at the Polish Embassy in Washington.

The decision not to invite Arafat was made according to a formulation under which “Walesa and the Polish government will invite all Nobel Peace Prize winners up to last year only,” Peres told Israel Radio on Saturday.

Peres is a co-recipient of this year’s coveted prize, along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Arafat.

However, Peres and Rabin reportedly might still attend the commemoration as leaders of the Jewish state.

Word last week about the invitation to Arafat prompted an avalanche of protest from Jewish organizations. The European Jewish Congress promised to boycott the event and the New York-based Coalition for Jewish Concerns-Amcha threatened to demonstrate.

Criticism over the invitation to Arafat was also voiced by such parties as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, the Zionist Organization of America can the head of Germany’s Jewish community, Ignatz Bubis.

Although the Jan. 27 commemoration was supposed to be coordinated by the Polish government and the International Auschwitz Committee, it has become largely Walesa’s project, according to Jewish officials.

More than 1 million Jews were killed at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp before it was liberated by Russian troops in January 1945.

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