Saturday, October 20, 2007

Right-wing Polish party accused of anti-Semitism for campaign ad

right-wing party ran a campaign ad Monday suggesting Polish lives have been put in danger in Iraq to serve Jewish and U.S. interests, and it immediately drew accusations of anti-Semitism.

The League of Polish Families' TV spot features footage of President Lech Kaczynski, first at a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush, and then with Orthodox Jews at Israel's Western Wall, where he dons a yarmulke. The words "Our allies," are flashed across the scene. "They put us in the line of attack."

A grim voiceover then warns: "It is our nation that is going to fall victim. Let the nation decide."

The advertisement — issued as part of campaigning for Sunday's general election — sparked a firestorm of criticism. Jacek Kurski, a lawmaker with the governing Law and Justice party, slammed it as "a pathetic masquerade" that was "seasoned with some anti-Semitism."

League of Polish Families leader Roman Giertych defended the spot, saying it was not anti-Semitic but insisting there is a connection between the war in Iraq and Israel.

"One can be against the war in Iraq without being an anti-Semite," Giertych said at a news conference.

"This ad shows the cooperation between Poland and the U.S., and Poland and Israel — we have a right to criticize it. The war in Iraq threatens our country and this is why the Polish troops should be pulled out from Iraq as soon as possible."

But Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, noted that the sequence of images was laid out in such a way as to provoke a negative feeling about Kaczynski being at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest place.

"You see the tanks, you feel bad, you see people being blown up, you feel bad, you see President Kaczynski at the Wall, you feel bad," he told the AP.

"Now the question is why should someone feel bad about President Kaczynski being at the Western Wall? What is negative about the president of the country visiting a holy site?"

Poland's "Stop War" movement, which opposes Polish involvement in Iraq, immediately distanced itself from the ad, saying it has "strong anti-Semitic connotations."

Poland contributed combat troops to the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and still has 900 soldiers stationed there.

The League of Polish Families, which served as a coalition partner in the conservative government of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski before being dismissed this summer, is fighting for its political survival.

Most opinion polls show it with between 2 and 4 percent support — below the 5 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

It is not the first time the party has faced accusations of anti-Semitism.

Giertych's father and fellow party member Maciej Giertych, a European Union lawmaker, was reprimanded early this year by the European Parliament for publishing a brochure that described the Jewish people as a "tragic community" that tends to settle "among the rich" while still choosing to live "in apartheid from the surrounding communities."

The party is also closely linked to a youth movement, the All-Polish Youth — founded by Giertych in 1989 — which has attacked gay rights activists and used Nazi slogans and gestures.

Maciej Giertych in November dismissed his assistant after a newspaper published a photo of her giving a straight-armed Nazi salute at an All-Polish Youth rally with a burning swastika in the background.

Giertych in December said his party had severed all ties with the radical youth wing after the swastika burning scandal.