Far-right Polish politician puts out menorah with fire extinguisher

A white haze filled the air of Poland’s Parliament in Warsaw after a right-wing lawmaker extinguished the candles of a menorah Tuesday after it had been lit in celebration of Hanukkah.

A video posted by a Polish news outlet shows Grzegorz Braun, a member of the country’s Confederation party, spraying a red fire extinguisher toward the menorah’s candles. The incident delayed a vote of confidence for Donald Tusk, a centrist politician who was nominated Monday as prime minister, the Associated Press reported.

Tusk’s nomination ended an eight-year right-wing rule in Poland but brought with it a tension between his goals and that of the Law and Justice party, which controlled Parliament from 2015 until this week. Braun’s act of extinguishing the menorah intensified the strain in the country’s Parliament while also highlighting tensions in communities across the world since the Israel-Gaza war began in October.

Braun, who has been a member of Parliament since 2019, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He was not allowed to participate in Tuesday’s parliamentary session and will lose some of his salary as a result of the incident, the AP reported.

The speaker of the Parliament, Szymon Holownia, described Braun’s behavior as “absolutely scandalous,” according to the wire service. Braun’s party condemned his actions in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Cardinal Grzegorz Ryś of Poland’s Catholic Church said in a statement that he was ashamed of Braun.

“I … apologize to the entire Jewish community in Poland,” Ryś, the chairman of a committee for dialogue with Judaism, added.

After the incident Tuesday, Braun said from a Parliament chamber podium that Hanukkah was “satanic,” Reuters reported.

In 2019, he was one of multiple right-wing politicians who marched in protest of Poland’s providing compensation for Jewish Holocaust survivors and their families whose property had been destroyed or looted, the AP reported. He won a Parliament seat later that year. Braun also previously repeated conspiracies about Poland becoming a “Jewish state,” according to the AP.

Incidents like Tuesday’s fit into a trend of antisemitic sentiments that has been evident over the last decade, particularly with populist right-wing political forces, said Steven Fish, a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

“That kind of thing is what we’ve come to expect from people on the far right,” he said. “That kind of expression of antisemitism is, unfortunately, just not surprising.”

Fish added that after the start of the Israel-Gaza war, there was an “unleashing of antisemitism all over the place.”

Rallies supporting Jewish communities have been held across Europe in recent weeks as Jewish residents have been concerned about antisemitism and threats to their safety since the war began Oct. 7, the AP reported. On Oct. 18, a Berlin synagogue was firebombed, which the country’s Central Council of Jews called a “terrorist attack,” according to the AP. Last week, officials in Austria arrested a teenager who allegedly planned to attack a synagogue in Vienna.

Several acts of vandalism involving menorahs have also been reported this month during the eight-day Festival of Lights. In Maryland, a menorah was found toppled outside a Jewish center. Over the weekend, near Yale University’s campus in Connecticut, a person scaled a menorah and hung a Palestinian flag from it, the AP reported.

On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski condemned Braun for extinguishing the menorah’s candles in Warsaw, calling it an “outrageous act” in a post on X.

“This repulsive act of hatred reminds all why we must be vigilant and fight against antisemitism,” Brzezinski said.

Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told Reuters that the candles Braun put out on Tuesday were re-lit within minutes.

“Our enemies should learn, they cannot extinguish us,” Schudrich said.

Emily Rauhala and Kate Brady contributed to this report.

1: https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2023/12/13/polish-politician-menorah-fire-extinguisher/

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