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Issue of Polish Anti-semitism Arises During Israeli’s Meeting in Warsaw

November 30, 1989
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Israel’s clear-cut interest in restoring diplomatic relations with Poland has been confronted by that country’s long history of anti-Semitism.

The issue was raised bluntly by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in a recently published interview and by other Likud politicians.

It is dogging Vice Premier Shimon Peres on his current visit to Poland.

Peres, who is Israel’s finance minister and leader of the Labor Party, assured Polish Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki at their meeting in Warsaw on Tuesday that “Israel and the Jewish people oppose ‘anti-Polandism,’ as much as you oppose anti-Semitism.”

The exchange of remarks about anti-Semitism was initiated by Mazowiecki, a leader of the Solidarity trade union movement, regarded as a firm friend in Israeli and Jewish circles.

He apparently was alluding indirectly to Shamir’s published remark that the Poles were deeply imbued with anti-Semitic feelings. “They drink it in with their mother’s milk,” the Israeli prime minister was quoted as saying.

Both Shamir and Peres were born in Poland, though Peres left at an earlier age. According to journalists accompanying him, Peres was at pains to ease the tension raised by Shamir’s remarks, without losing sight of Poland’s dismal record with regard to its once huge Jewish population.

Peres invited Mazowiecki to visit Israel, and the devoutly Catholic Polish prime minister eagerly accepted, saying he looked forward to visiting the holy places.


The restoration of diplomatic relations with Israel, which the Poles broke in 1967, seems likely in the near future.

After meeting Tuesday with Peres, Poland’s foreign minister, Krzysztof Skubiszewski, said “a new chapter” in relations between the two countries would open in the first four months of 1990.

The foreign minister, also a Solidarity leader, said it had been a mistake to break off with Israel 22 years ago.

The first steps to rectify it were taken in 1988, when Israel and Poland opened interest sections in Warsaw and Tel Aviv respectively.

Skubiszewski made clear that Poland will have to move forward carefully, however, because of its large volume of trade with the Arab world. He and Peres had a detailed discussion of prospective economic cooperation.

Peres learned of Poland’s interest in Israeli agricultural exports and expertise, and of Warsaw’s plans to open a chain of Kosher restaurants, in anticipation of greater Jewish tourism.

But a different note was sounded Tuesday in the Knesset by Gideon Patt, the minister of tourism and a member of the Likud bloc’s Liberal Party wing. He said relations with Warsaw, if restored, should be “correct,” but no more.

In Patt’s view, Israel should not go out of its way to establish closer economic ties with Poland. “We should not support the Polish economy in its attempt to recover,” he said.

He was articulating an undercurrent of discomfort over the Israeli-Polish thaw, discernible in parts of Israeli society, notably among Holocaust survivors and their families.

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