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Far-right Polish MP extinguishes Hanukah candles

By Shaun Walker

Grzegorz Braun, far-right Polish lawmaker from Confederation party, walks after using a fire extinguisher to put out Hanukah candles at the parliament in Warsaw. Photograph: Sławomir Kamiński/Agencja

A far-right Polish MP has extinguished candles on a menorah lit for Hanukah in Poland’s parliament, disrupting proceedings before a vote of confidence in the new government.

Grzegorz Braun, a fringe far-right MP, was shown on television spraying the menorah with a fire extinguisher. Haze filled the area. The parliament took a break in proceedings to deal with the incident and Braun was

suspended for the rest of the day.

Donald Tusk, whose new government won a vote of confidence on Tuesday, had earlier delivered a keynote speech to parliament outlining his plans for office, described the incident as “a disgrace”.

“This is unacceptable. This can’t happen again,” he said.

Rabbi Sholom Ber Stambler, who has lit the menorah in parliament for the last 17 years, said Braun was “an antisemite who wanted to attract attention”, but suggested the stunt had in fact had the opposite intended effect.

“I’ve had so many phone calls and messages from Polish MPs, people who live in Poland; everyone sends me so much solidarity and care, feeling sorry and apologising for this,” said Ber Stambler in a telephone interview.

Ber Stambler had been in the next room when Braun launched the attack, he said, but his children were still around the menorah, and got foam from the fire extinguisher in their mouths.

“He wanted to destroy a very uplifting atmosphere of tolerance and freedom of religion,” said Ber Stambler, who is from the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. “We’ve been doing it for 17 years, and … every time it was easy to arrange and MPs from different parties would join and respect,” he said.

Asked just after the incident if he was ashamed, Braun replied: “Those who take part in acts of satanic worship should be ashamed.” He left the chamber, shaking hands with other far-right lawmakers.

The speaker of the parliament, Szymon Hołownia, denounced Braun’s actions.

“There will be no tolerance for racism, xenophobia, antisemitism … as long as I am the speaker of parliament,” Hołownia told reporters.

Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Yacov Livne, posted on X: “SHAME. A Polish parliament member just did this. Few minutes after we celebrated Chanukah there.”

The US ambassador to Poland, Mark Brzezinski, also condemned the attack on X: “Poland has experienced the atrocities of the Holocaust, and this disgusting act of hatred reminds us all why we must remain vigilant and fight anti-Semitism every minute of every day,” he wrote.

Cardinal Grzegorz Ryś of Poland’s Catholic church said in a statement that he was ashamed of Braun’s actions. “[I] apologise to the entire Jewish community in Poland,” he wrote.

Braun, a pro-Russian member of the far-right Confederation party, has in the past falsely claimed that there is a plot to turn Poland into “a Jewish state”. Earlier this year, he disrupted a planned lecture by Holocaust scholar Jan Grabowski, who has researched instances of Polish complicity in the Holocaust, causing the lecture to be cancelled.

Ber Stambler said Braun was “antisemitic but also anti-Polish”, as he had disrupted an important political day, with the swearing in of the new government. “It was very important for me to relight the menorah after, which I did,” he added.

© 2023 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.


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