Polish President Denounces 'Hate Crime' After Israeli Spits on Ambassador

Poland summons Israeli ambassador for clarifications after 65-year-old Arik Lederman spat on the ambassador in central Tel Aviv ■ Lederman: I didn't know it was the Ambassador

Polish ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, August 2018
מארק ניימן / לע"מ

An Israeli man was arrested after spitting at Poland's ambassador as the diplomat was sitting in his car in Tel Aviv, Israel Police said Wednesday.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki denounced the attack on Twitter: "I am very worried to hear of a racist attack ... Poland strongly condemns this xenophobic act of aggression. Violence against diplomats or any other citizens should never be tolerated."

President Andrzej Duda called the incident "humiliation of Polish pride," adding it was an "anti-Polish hate crime." Duda said: "Just as we fight any sign of anti-Semitism, I won't agree to any anti-Polish action. We don't deserve it."

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The 65-year-old man, Arik Lederman, was placed under house arrest. "I want to apologize for my actions yesterday. My family suffered during the Holocaust in Poland and my request at the embassy was regarding property," Lederman said. "I was treated terribly there, and one of the employees called me a kike in Polish... I then left the embassy and walked towards my car in the nearby parking lot... A car came from behind me and stared honking. I reacted the way I did and I apologize for it... I didn't know it was the Polish Ambassador."

On Friday Duda wrote a letter to President Reuven Rivlin condemning the "chauvinism and hate through a nationalist lens." 

"These sorts of positions need to be condemned, and harshly punished," Duda further wrote, saying that he is counting on Israeli leaders to clarify and fairly judge the incident. 

The Polish Foreign Ministry in Warsaw summoned the Israeli ambassador Anna Azari to discuss the incident. According to a statement by the ministry, Azari "deplored the incident and declared the assistance of the Israeli authorities in fully establishing its circumstances."

The statement called on the Israeli authorities to "ensure that Polish diplomats are properly and effectively protected in Israel in the similar way as is the case with Israeli diplomats in Poland."

Ambassador Marek Magierowski tweeted later on Wednesday: "Many thanks for your kind words of support. ... We just keep working."

He then added in a separate tweet: "I’ve read some bizarre claims about inappropriate behaviour & language of the sec guard at @PLinIsrael. Simply not true. He is a loyal, hard-working, well-trained & delicate person. In his 2-month tenure he’s attended approx. 2K people. Not a single complaint."

The Israeli Foreign Minister condemned the attack, and expressed its "fullest sympathy to the ambassador and our shock at the attack."

The Israeli ambassador in Poland released a statement expressing sadness about the incident, and opposing and condemning such acts of violence. 

The Polish Foreign Ministry provided Haaretz with its account of the event, saying an Israeli man asked the embassy's security guard to talk to someone at the embassy about "Polish anti-Semitism." According to the embassy, the guard requested that he wait.

About 15 minutes later, the embassy said, Ambassador Magierowski got into his car, drove 100 meters and then saw the man walking slowly in the middle of the street. The man then approached the vehicle and banged the roof with his fist, the embassy reported, opened the car's door and spat on him twice.

The police investigation corroborated the Polish Foreign Ministry's account.

The suspect said he had come to the embassy for matters involving returning Jewish property in Poland. He said that he was not let in and was also greeted with an anti-Semitic slur by one of the guards.

Last February, swastikas and anti-Polish slogans were sprayed at the entrance to the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv. The graffiti was sprayed a day after Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki said that the Holocaust had Polish perpetrators, just as it had Jewish ones.

On Monday, Poland canceled the visit of an official Israeli delegation to Warsaw, which planned to discuss the restoring Jewish property stolen from Polish Jews during the Holocaust, a contentious issue between the two countries.

Relations between Israel and Poland have been on a collision course in recent years because of the controversial Polish legislation known as the “Holocaust Law,” which criminalizes anybody accusing the Polish nation of complicity in Nazi crimes. The law was passed in the Polish parliament in late 2017, but six months later Morawiecki backtracked on it and asked the parliament to reopen discussions on the law following pressure from Israel and the United States.

In its current form, the law makes it a criminal offense to accuse the Polish people or Polish state of being responsible or a partner to the Nazi crimes and outlaws the use of the term “Polish death camps” in reference to death camps that Nazi Germany established in Poland during World War II. It also makes it an offense to blatantly minimize “the responsibility of the real perpetrators of the crimes.”

The Polish parliament’s approval of the law created a crisis in Poland’s relations with Israel and the Jewish community worldwide. Opponents of the legislation, including Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance authority and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, have claimed that the law promotes Holocaust denial and limits debate on the role that some Poles played in the Holocaust.