In an impassioned plea before the Knesset, Lech Walesa begged Israel on Monday to forgive Poland for its centuries of anti-Semitism.
But Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who once said Poles imbibed anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk, did not offer the visiting Polish president absolution.
He did say, however, that he thought the one-time Solidarity leader’s plea was sincere, adding that under Walesa’s leadership, “a new chapter was opened in the relations between the two peoples.”
The union leader-turned-statesman addressed a special session of the Knesset on the first day of a four-day state visit to Israel. His speech was broadcast on radio and television.
“Here in Israel, the land of your culture and the land of your revival, I ask for your forgiveness,” Walesa said.
He briefly reviewed the 1,000-year history of Jews in Poland. He said they mainly found “hospitality, tolerance and security” in his country, where they produced “great scientists and spiritual leaders.”
But “some Poles did bad things” during the Holocaust, Walesa admitted, and more recently the Communist regime “caused a crooked mirror” to misrepresent Polish-Jewish relations.
It is only under democracy,” he asserted, that Poland is home to “all its citizens, regardless of creed.”
Shamir, who was born in the Polish village of Rozanoi and went to school in nearby Bialystok, spoke of the “wicked phenomena of Jewhatred,” which he himself had witnessed as a young man.
Shamir said he hoped Walesa’s visit would be “the harbinger of a new page in the relationship” between Poland and Israel “after decades of one-side alienation.”
He thanked Poland for the services it provides Soviet Jews immigrating to Israel and promised Israeli technological assistance and know-how to help Poland in its transition from a socialist to a free-market economy.
In their private talks, Shamir urged Walesa to close the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Warsaw, which has embassy status. “The PLO is worse than the anti-Semites,” he said.
Walesa promised Poland would not aid the “enemies of Israel” but did not mention the PLO.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.