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Why I met a Polish priest with an anti-Semitic past

Years of efforts by Israel's foreign ministry among others have led to genuine positive change
A student on a trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in modern-day Poland on April 27, 2014. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)
A student on a trip to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp site in modern-day Poland on April 27, 2014. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash 90)

I am thankful for the opportunity to explain the recent gathering honoring Righteous Gentiles in Poland, and my association with Jonny Daniels of the From The Depths foundation. I usually ignore attacks and name-calling and simply focus on my work for Israel, but since I was challenged in such a public and detailed manner,  I feel the need to respond in a similar public and detailed manner.

I must begin by expressing my surprise that a representative of the World Jewish Congress, an organization which I have been involved with for many years, would resort to name calling instead of simply raising the issues and questions. There needs to be more respect rather than personal attacks in our public dialogue. I hope that this was simply a momentary aberration and not reflective of such a well-respected organization falling prey to the current politically charged atmosphere worldwide.

In his op-ed, Laurence Weinbaum took issue with my participation in an event to honor Righteous Gentiles hosted by Father Rydzyk in Torun, Poland, and suggested that had I done quick research I would have learned of Father Rydzyk’s anti-Semitic statements. Let me be clear. I did more than just a few minutes of research, and there is no doubt that for many years Radio Maria under the leadership of Father Rydzyk was a strong proponent of anti-Semitic statements.

However, my research also revealed that thanks to years of work by various bodies including the Israeli Foreign Ministry, things have changed. Gazeta Wyborcza, a left-wing Polish newspaper, has a reporter whose entire job is to listen and monitor Radio Maria. Prior to my final agreement to participate in the memorial event, he reported that not one word of anti-Semitism has been heard on the station for over a year, and that some of the older reporters, who were notorious for their anti-Semitic attitudes, had been fired from the station. He also reported that when someone called the station and began to express anti-Semitic sentiments, that person was immediately cut off.

There is a reason Israel’s Foreign Ministry has declared that “the dialogue with Father Rydzyk is important.” If he wants to reform from his anti-Semitic past, and is willing to use Poland’s largest and strongest media outlet as a positive voice towards Judaism and Israel, then I believe it is our responsibility to take advantage of the opportunity and accept his invitations to present Judaism and Israel in a positive light to his followers and to the millions in his audience.

So far from being anyone’s “useful idiot,” I educated myself on all sides of the equation, and made a very deliberate decision in complete consonance with Israel’s foreign affairs policy.

After answering the more personal attacks against me, I must say that I am quite stunned by Laurence’s criticism of my participation in the Torun event. The victims of Nazi oppression in my family were not fortunate enough to have been saved. Being there in person to honor Poles murdered for attempting to save their Jewish neighbors was deeply moving and meaningful. As we know, “he who saves one life is as if he saved the entire world.” It was incredibly important for the Israeli delegation — which included Labor, Likud and Yesh Atid — to sit alongside Christian pastors, the prime minister of Poland, the minister of finance, minister of the interior, speaker of the Senate and other leaders, to honor those who lost their lives. Our dialogue with these Polish leaders at the event was also very important.  Most meaningful of all was being there to hear from and meet with Polish Jewish Holocaust survivors who themselves were saved by Polish Righteous.

I must also take issue with Laurence’s attacks against Jonny Daniels. I have been following the work of Jonny and his foundation for the last four years, and have been impressed by the work he has done in outreach to Christians, working with forgotten Jewish heritage and history, helping and working with the Righteous Among the Nations, working with Poland’s largest Jewish organization TSKZ, bringing to Poland an array of important Jewish and Christian leaders from across the political spectrum including members of Knesset, members of the Unites States Congress, members of the British government, and many others including former NBA All-Star Ray Allen, to see for themselves the sights of Poland’s painful heritage.

I first met Jonny when he organized a memorable event during my term in the Knesset — a delegation to Poland in 2014 on Holocaust Memorial Day. This historic event brought a majority of the Knesset — members from almost all parties, left and right, Jew and Arab — to a memorial event at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was an emotional gathering in which we joined with Holocaust survivors to honor the memory of our martyrs and to remember the painful history of the Holocaust. I will never forget the honor we gave that evening to a group of Polish Righteous Among the Nations who Jonny invited to meet with us. This event happened before the current government came into office, so the suggestion that Jonny is somehow an arm of the current government is simply false.

As for the Fox News interview which Laurence cited against Jonny, I had seen the segment before he brought it to my attention, and it was clear that Jonny was referring to the Righteous Gentiles having not been filmed before, and not their not having been taken care of, as Laurence suggested. There are multiple interviews and events in which Jonny has spoken of all the other incredible institutions dealing with helping the Righteous Gentiles.

Finally, I believe that representatives of organizations such as the World Jewish Congress — which have worked diligently in the field of Polish Jewish relations for many years, a blessed and important activity — should be encouraging young Jewish leaders such as Jonny to thrive and grow. An environment should be created in which young leaders can reach out to someone with the experience of someone like Laurence for guidance, and in which major organizations reach out to them privately with decency and respect if there is any criticism. Public attacks and smear articles smack of petty Jewish organizational politics and should be beneath the important organization which people like Laurence represent.

About the Author
Dov Lipman was elected to the 19th Knesset in January 2013. He is the author of seven books about Judaism and Israel, and holds rabbinic ordination from Ner Israel Rabbinical College and a masters in education from Johns Hopkins University. He has been at the forefront of combating religious extremism in Israel and is a leader in efforts to create Jewish unity both in Israel and around the world. Former MK Lipman is invited to speak on behalf of the Jewish state both in Israel and around the world and serves as a political commentator for i24 News and ILTV. He currently serves as Senior Manager - Community Outreach for Honest Reporting.
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