Behind the Headlines: Jewish Issues Take Back Seat in Polish Parliament Elections

Anti-Semitism played little role in Poland’s parliamentary elections and the new government is not expected to shift official policy on Jewish issues.

Some observers, however, fear a change of attitude if the expected center-right coalition based around a Solidarity alliance comes to power.

“The president and other leaders know that [Jewish relations] are a priority,” said one civil servant involved in Jewish issues. “One cannot expect changes, but it will be perhaps a matter of zeal in carrying out policy.”

Preliminary results in Sunday’s elections gave the rightist Solidarity Election Action 34 percent of the vote, compared to nearly 27 percent for the Democratic Left Alliance of reformed communists, which has led the current government.

The liberal, centrist Freedom Union came in third with nearly 14 percent and will be a key element in a new governing coalition.

The coalition’s composition was not expected to be known for several weeks.

Solidarity is an umbrella group of more than 30 small parties linked with the Roman Catholic Church and traditionalist, at times nationalist, values.

Several prominent leaders or supporters of the Freedom Union are of Jewish origin, and its liberal, secular positions would in part balance some of Solidarity’s positions.

The Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland, the one party whose candidates openly expressed anti-Semitism, was expected to get little more than 5 percent of the votes and only a handful of seats in Parliament. It is unlikely to figure in a new government.

The outgoing government, led by the former communists, has made a priority of attempting to improve relations between Poles and Jews.

Last year, for example, the government formally apologized for the 1946 Kielce pogrom in which a Polish mob killed 42 Jewish Holocaust survivors. A special Polish ambassador to the Diaspora was appointed two years ago.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former communist who defeated Solidarity founder Lech Walesa to become president in 1995 and who remains in office for another two years, was even accused by some on the right of being too accommodating on Jewish issues.

“The Jewish issue was largely absent” in the parliamentary election campaign, said Konstanty Gebert, editor of the Warsaw-based Jewish monthly Midrasz. “It’s as if the Jewish issue had outlived its usefulness.”

More importantly, Gebert said, political issues involving Jewish concerns were not raised in the campaign — including property restitution and the controversy over Poland’s intention to buy some $700 million worth of helicopter missiles and avionics from Israel.

The United States has sharply criticized Poland for choosing Israeli arms rather than American ones just two months after Poland was invited to join NATO.

Israel this week said that it was confident Poland would go ahead with the deal, though it might be split between Israeli and American companies.

The Polish government had said that a final decision on the arms deal would not be made until after the parliamentary elections.

While Jewish observers reported little anti-Semitism in the election campaign, Pawel Spiewak, a sociologist who is active in the Jewish community, said he was concerned that in the wake of Sunday’s election opposition to anti-Semitism would be linked with communism.

“Since the post-communists [in the current government] are the main critics of anti-Semitism, this could lead to the view that if you are against anti- Semitism, you are communist,” he said.

NEXT STORY