Is Poland’s new defence minister, Antoni Macierewicz, fit to hold public office?
That’s a legitimate question following the disclosure that he flirted with the possibility that The Protocols of the Elders Of Zion, a notorious antisemitic tract, may be an authentic historical document, and that he supports its twisted thesis.
In an interview in 2002 with Radio Maryia — a chauvinistically right-wing Polish radio station — Macierewicz was asked his opinion of the Protocols, a late 19th century Czarist police fabrication which claims that a cabal of grasping Jewish leaders seek global domination through control of the world economy and the press.
An indispensable handbook for 20th century hard-core antisemites like Adolf Hitler and Henry Ford, the Protocols was proved to be fraudulent, a figment of demented imaginations, but this inconvenient truth didn’t bother or deter Jew haters, whether in Imperial Russia or Nazi Germany.
That Radio Maryia even posed such a provocative question to Macierewicz was perhaps indicative of its antipathy toward Jews. Macierewicz’s response was equally revealing. As he put it: “I want to say that I am not a specialist on this, and so I can’t resolve this, but experience, Polish experience, especially in recent years, shows that there are such groups in Jewish circles who think in a cunning way and act deliberately to the detriment of, for example, Poland. I have no doubt there.”
One can’t be certain what exactly he had in mind when he referred to “Jewish circles” and their supposed plots against Poland. But Macierewicz’s comments were highly disturbing, reminiscent of absurd and long-discredited antisemitic conspiracy theories that have no place in civilized discourse.
Through a spokesman, Macierewicz condemned antisemitism “in all its forms.” This can be taken as a positive signal that he has revised his views, if only for the sake of expediency.
What’s needed now is a full-throated public denunciation of both antisemitism and the Protocols from Macierewicz himself. Antisemitism is a blot on Polish history, which has been replete with outbursts of racial intolerance. The Protocols, a blatant forgery, has played a grim and disproportionate role in poisoning impressionable minds and should always be repudiated by decent people.
Since the end of the communist era in Poland 25 years ago, Poland has been a model state, having made the transition from dictatorship to democracy and from state-sponsored antisemitism to friendship with the Jewish people and Israel. Macierewicz’s obnoxious remarks, though uttered 13 years ago, are jarringly at odds with this spirit.
It’s incumbent on Poland’s new prime minister, Beata Szydlo, to choose cabinet ministers who reflect the ethos of a tolerant and outward-looking Poland. Poland cannot go back to the dark and provincial days of 1967 and 1968, when “Zionists” were blamed for its travails. Poland should not for a moment tolerate expressions of hatred and ethnocentrism that cast doubt on its status as a Western-style democracy.
Macierewicz should vigorously denounce antisemitism and conclusively distance himself from the Protocols. That’s the least he can do after opening up this stinking can of worms. If he can’t bring himself to do this, he should do the honorable thing and resign.
Poland’s image and reputation are stake here.