The American Jewish Committee has publicly served a 17-year relationship with the Chicago-based Polish American Congress, throwing into question the future of the country’s oldest Polish-Jewish dialogue group.
AJCommittee decided to “terminate” its joint sponsorship of the National Polish American-Jewish American Council after the publication of a letter by the PAC’s president, Edward Moskal, to Alexander Kwasniewski, the president of Poland.
In that letter, Moskal – who also heads the Polish National Alliance, an insurance company and fraternal organization representing 250,000 Polish Americans – expressed his concern “regarding the submissiveness of the Polish authorities with respect to demands raised by Jews.”
David Harris, the AJCommittee’s executive director, said his organization was angered by the letter’s “highly bigoted tenor and style. This has the unmistakable ring of old-style anti-Semitism.”
The PAC is a national umbrella organization representing 1 million Polish Americans, and is a co-founder with the AJCommittee of the Polish-Jewish dialogue group.
“We’ve been involved with AJCommittee to build bridges and to build better understanding within our communities,” said Les Kuczynski, national executive director of the PAC. “We would like to continue that dialogue, whether officially or unofficially, so that our mutual concerns can be better understood.”
It was the first official statement to come from the PAC after the AJCommittee faxed a letter to Moskal expressing dismay with the “harsh, insensitive tone and outrageously distorted contents” of his letter to Kwasniewski.
Specifically, Moskal criticized what he called “preferential treatment given to Jews who are seeking the return of their property in Poland.”
He also reproached the government for its decision to ban commercial development of an area outside Auschwitz, in apparent response to Jewish protests.
According to an official translation of his letter provided by the PAC, Moskal wrote that many people coming from other countries to visit Auschwitz “would like to purchase a token of remembrance. This is even permitted on the grounds of the Holocaust Museum in Washington.”
Moskal also criticized Dariusz Rosati, Polish minister of foreign affairs, for his “unfortunate and unnecessary” apology for the Kielce pogrom of 1946.
“It was a private letter never meant to be published, as a follow-up to a very private conversation between Mr. Moskal and President Kwasniewski,” said the PAC’s Kuczynski, who also serves as general counsel for the Polish National Alliance. “Regardless of what is in the letter, it was never meant to be public.”
But the letter was published May 10 in a Polish-language newspaper owned by the PNA after a Polish official reportedly announced Monday that the Polish president rejected Moskal’s criticism and said Poland stands by its current policies.
“There should be no place for harmful stereotypes, xenophobia, religious, racial or ethnic prejudices,” Kwasniewski wrote to Moskal.
“I don’t believe the method he chose to express his concerns was in any way constructive,” said the Rev. John Pawlikoskoi, co-president of the Polish- Jewish dialogue group.
“I can understand how AJCommittee, given the intemperate nature of the letter, found it difficult to continue a relationship which publicly linked them with the PAC,” he said.
“Many of us would have trouble with Mr. Moskal’s claim that he speaks for Polish Americans. He certainly doesn’t speak for all Polish Americans,” the priest said.
Pawiikowski said only dialogue could address the issues raised in Moskal’s letter, but “dialogue requires moderation of language.”
Although much of the dialogue group’s funding came from AJCommittee grants, its leaders are “firmly committed” to have the group continue, Pawlikowski said. They will meet next month in Chicago to consider how the group can be sustained, he added.
“We will have to wait and see how the conversion goes in the June meeting to see what level of commitment the AJCommittee maintains with respect to the council.”
Jonathan Levine, Midwest regional director of the AJCommittee, said, “We have and will continue to meet with leaders in the Polish community. There is more to the Polish community than the PAC in our view.”
AJCommittee has developed “close and honest ties with some of the younger people” in the Polish American community, and those ties “will clearly continue,” said Levine.
“It is that older generation that, for whatever reason, finds it more difficult to hold a genuine dialogue, to talk to us and to listen to us.”
While AJCommittee is dissolving its relationship with the PAC, Levine said the dialogue group “is alive and well. It is as active and vital now as it has ever been. We are supporting it and we will continue to do so.”