Police Files Charges Against Israeli Who Spat at Polish Ambassador

Assault and criminal threats charges filed two days after Tel Aviv incident that drew strong condemnation from Warsaw

File photo: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski at the president's official residence in Jerusalem, August 2, 2018.
Mark Neiman/GPO

Israeli prosecutors filed charges on Thursday against a man accused of spitting at Poland's ambassador, an incident that drew strong condemnation from Warsaw and underscored tensions between the countries over anti-Semitism and Holocaust history. 

The suspect, Erik Lederman, was indicted for assault and criminal threats, Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court papers showed. Police said that in Tuesday's incident in Tel Aviv he had struck the roof of a car carrying Ambassador Marek Magierowski with his hand, then opened a door and spat twice on the envoy.

The counts carry a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

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Charges were filed despite the fact that only a day earlier, police had asked the court to extend Lederman's remand to complete the investigation.

On Thursday, police asked that Lederman be released from detention and that the court issue a restraining order preventing him from going near the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv for 30 days.

Lederman, 65, has apologized, saying the car had honked at him and that he had not known Magierowski was inside. 

He said he came to the embassy to inquire about Polish restitution for his family, which had been through the Holocaust, and had been turned away.

According to Lederman, an embassy employee used an anti-Semitic slur while he was there. 

Magierowski has denied that any embassy staff used inappropriate language or behaved improperly, and the charge sheet doesn't mention it at all.

An employee enters the Polish embassy in Tel Aviv, May 16, 2019.
Moti Milrod

According to the charges filed, Lederman was walking on a road near the embassy when the ambassador's driver honked at him. Lederman then approached the vehicle and hit its roof, leading the ambassador, seated in the back seat, to order the driver to break. The ambassador then opened the car door and used his phone to take a photo of Lederman, who then spat at Magierowski.

"As the charge sheet shows … it was a confrontation on the road, rather than a racist incident," a person close to Lederman said Thursday.

Lederman told police investigators he had identified the diplomatic license plate on Magierowski's car and said he got emotional.

The ambassador's driver told police Lederman "walked in front of us and wouldn't move off the road, so I honked at him. He looked at the license plate, put his hands on the vehicle so it doesn't move and hit it strongly. He walked over to the ambassador's side, opened the door and spat at him." Magierowski also testified following the incident.

Polish-Israeli relations have deteriorated in recent months over accusations that Warsaw's nationalist PiS government has tolerated a revival of anti-Semitic behavior, a charge it denies. 

A U.S. law on the restitution of Jewish property seized during or after World War II has stirred criticism in Warsaw, adding to tensions with Israel over Poles' role in the Holocaust. 

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki denounced on Wednesday 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."

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."

"I want to apologize for my actions," Lederman said in a statement issued following the incident. "My family suffered during the Holocaust in Poland and my request at the embassy was regarding property."

He added: "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."