Five questions for Poland’s Chief Rabbi

The Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, found himself at the centre of a political row today as claim and counter-claim were made over his statements on Michal Kaminski, the controversial leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists.

The Jewish Chronicle today report an email sent from Schudrich to the Policy Exchange think tank. The email says:

“There is no doubt that Kaminski is a strong friend of the State of Israel. He himself has spoken out against anti-Semitism on several occasions during the past decade. It is a grotesque distortion that people are quoting me to prove that Kaminski is an anti-Semite. Portraying Kaminski as a neo Nazi plays into the painful and false stereotype that all Poles are anti-Semitic.”

On the Today programme, William Hague responded to a question from James Naughtie saying:

“Judging by the quotes you’re reading from the Chief Rabbi, that is a very trenchant defence of Mr Kaminski and the Israeli government have also said they do not regard him in any way as an anti-Semite.”

But New Statesman journalist James Macintyre, who broke the original story, has hit back publishing the email he received from Schudrich on 27 July. The Rabbi wrote:

“It is clear that Mr Kaminski was a member of NOP, a group that is openly far right and neo-nazi. Anyone who would want to align himself with a person who was an active member of NOP and the Committee to Defend the Good Name of Jedwabne (which was established to deny historical facts of the massacre at Jedwabne) needs to understand with what and by whom he is being represented.”

Meanwhile, Toby Helm writes for the Guardian blog:

“What I understand is that Schudrich has been under the most enormous pressure from the highest authorities in Poland to retract the remarks, but has refused to do so. The pressure, I am told, came from Kamiński’s Law and Justice party, the party of the Polish president.”

At Next Left, Sunder Katwala writes, “The evidence that Michal Kaminski made at least opportunistic use of anti-semitic sentiments remains strong, and efforts to refute this have unravelled.”

Left Foot Forward has contacted Rabbi Schudrich and asked the following questions:

  1. How can a former member of “a group that is openly far right and neo-nazi” also be a “friend of Israel”?
  2. Has any member of the British Conservative party been in contact to ask you to make this new statement?
  3. Has anyone who works for Policy Exchange been in contact to ask you to make this new statement?
  4. Has anyone from the Polish Law and Justice party been in contact to ask you to make this new statement?
  5. Do you have a view on Michal Kaminski’s statement that: “If you are asking the Polish nation to apologise for the crime made in Jedwabne, you would require from the whole Jewish nation to apologise for what some Jewish communists did in eastern Poland.”

We will report anything we get back.

Listen to David Miliband and William Hague on the Today programme:

Transcript on Kaminski comments:

HAGUE

Well I think it is time for David to apologise to Mr Kaminski. Judging by the quotes you’re reading from the Chief Rabbi, that is a very trenchant defence of Mr Kaminski and the Israeli government have also said they do not regard him in any way as an anti-Semite. If the Chief Rabbi of Poland and the Israeli government think that, then I think David Miliband has to be very careful about making charges of anti-Semitism.

NAUGHTIE

Do you have any doubts about some of the people you’re now associated with from eastern Europe?

HAGUE

No, these are mainstream parties.

NAUGHTIE

You don’t have any doubts.

HAGUE

In the case of, well, we looked at them very carefully beforehand so if we’d had any doubts we wouldn’t have joined up with them. The party we’re talking about here is the party of the President of Poland and the party that David Miliband has also attacked from Latvia, this has caused enormous offence in Latvia. I understand that the Latvian foreign minister spoke to David on Monday and personally complained to him about remarks which he says are historically illiterate.

NAUGHTIE

I just want to be absolutely clear. You say that you have looked at the background of all these people who are now your allies. You’ve gone into it and you’re happy with their backgrounds. That’s just something that we need to be clear about.

HAGUE

Yes and I regard them as mainstream parties. It is true that you can make…

NAUGHTIE

Mainstream?

HAGUE

It is true that you can make accusations against all groups in the European Parliament. There is no doubt about that and in fact the, the opinions that David was just ascribing to Mr Kaminski about one historical controversy, enormous controversy in Poland, are also the opinions of the President of the European Parliament who is in the EPP and of Lech Walensa and other figures in Poland.

NAUGHTIE

Mr Miliband, just a quick response.

MILIBAND

Well, there are two very important issues where I think William Hague must give an answer on this programme now. Mr Kaminski said that it was wrong to ask for an apology for the murder of over 300 Jews burnt to death in 1941 in Jedwabne until the Jewish nation quote unquote apologise for alleged crimes under Communism. I condemn that.

HAGUE

I don’t agree with that. There are so many things, you know, you can take in the socialist group in the European…

MILIBAND

No, I’m sorry, we’re talking about the murder, we’re talking about the murder of 300 people in cold blood at the height of the Holocaust. The second thing…

HAGUE

And of course if he was here to defend himself he would be able to explain his position the same as the position of members of the EPP…

MILIBAND

There’s no room for hair-splitting, there’s no room for hair-splitting when it comes to the murder of 300 people, burnt to death in 1941.

HAGUE

And there is no room for charges of anti-Semitism on a simplistic and crude basis that causes enormous offence in eastern Europe.

NAUGHTIE

You had a second point Mr Miliband.

MILIBAND

The second point is that Mr Kaminski said, in his interview with the Jewish Chronicle, that this murder of over 300 people in 1941 could not be compared to other Nazi crimes. I don’t think that’s right, you can’t go around hair-splitting when it comes to murdering people on the basis of their religion.

NAUGHTIE

Mr Hague?

HAGUE

Well I’ve no doubt that David would have difficulty with some of the views of people in the Socialist group which include Holocaust denial in Romania and homophobia in Bulgaria and two members of the socialist group in the European Parliament who’ve been identified in Poland as associated with the secret police under the Communist party. We do have to respect the fact that when these countries come into the EU, they bring with them a lot of historical controversies and different attitudes, but I think the opinions of the Chief Rabbi make this absolutely clear and I think that to damage relations with friendly countries in pursuit of a partizan agenda in British politics is not in keeping with the office of British Foreign Secretary.

MILIBAND

William Hague has just said it’s mainstream to deny the need for an apology in respect of the murder at Jedwabne.

HAGUE

I have not said that at all.

MILIBAND

Well you said they were a mainstream party…

HAGUE

They are a mainstream party, they are the party of the President of Poland and the President of Poland does not take kindly to the British Foreign Secretary exploiting this for domestic political gain.

MILIBAND

No, it’s wrong to talk about the exploitation. There is a very significant issue as you know very well that the idea that one should start quibbling about the need to condemn appalling acts of massacre in the 1940s is something that I think you and I should always be clear about.

5 Responses to “Five questions for Poland’s Chief Rabbi”

  1. alexsmith1982

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five questions for Poland’s Chief Rabbi on revisionist Kaminski statement:- //bit.ly/42LbGF

  2. Mandelhater

    Tut tut tut Mr Straw.

    Are you violating the BBC’s copyright? I hope you have written permission to upload that MP3.

    Peter Mandelson should cut off your internet access.

  3. davecole.org » blog » Blog Archive » What did the Chief Rabbi of Poland say?

    […] weighing in – Next Left and Progress – but Will ‘Left Foot Forward’ Straw has five interesting questions for Rabbi Schudrich: 1. How can a former member of “a group that is openly far right and neo-nazi” also be a […]

  4. Unanswered questions for Chief Rabbi Schudrich | Left Foot Forward

    […] Foot Forward yesterday asked Poland’s Chief Rabbi, Michael Schudrich, five questions. His appearance on the Today programme this morning appears to have answered two of those questions […]

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