Poland’s prime minister on Wednesday condemned what he described as a “xenophobic” attack on the country’s ambassador to Israel on a Tel Aviv street. The Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari was summoned to the Polish Foreign Ministry in Warsaw.
Israeli officials expressed shock at the attack and said they were investigating the assault on Marek Magierowski on Tuesday.
A 65-year-old man from Herzilya was arrested for allegedly spitting at Magierowski while the Polish diplomat was sitting in his car. The suspect was released from custody on Wednesday.
At his custody hearing, the suspect told the court that he was unaware the person in the car was the Polish ambassador. A lawyer for the man was quoted by Walla News as saying he had been turned away from the Polish Embassy after trying to inquire about restitution.
The lawyer also said that police officers who arrived at the scene failed to document the suspect’s version of events, and that one of the security guards called him a “Jewboy.”
According to the police, however, the incident was caused by road rage. “After [the suspect] honked at the driver of the [ambassador’s] vehicle to move out of the way, the suspect approached the vehicle, banged forcefully on the roof, and when the ambassador used his cellphone to document the suspect, he opened a car door and spit in the ambassador’s face.”
In his decision to release the suspect from custody, the judge added: “The act is deserving of all contempt” and is an embarrassment to Israelis. Maierowski’s “only sin,” the judge said, “was addressing the suspect in a manner he found disagreeable.”
The incident comes amid a bitter standoff between Poland and Israel over how to remember the Holocaust and over demands that Poland pay reparations for former Jewish properties that were seized by Nazi Germany and later nationalized by Poland’s communist regime.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki expressed his concern at what he described as a “racist” attack.
“Poland strongly condemns this xenophobic act of aggression. Violence against diplomats or any other citizens should never be tolerated,” Morawiecki said.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Emmanuel Nahshon, said the assault was being investigated and that “we will update our Polish friends” on what is found.
“Israel expresses its full sympathy with the Polish ambassador and shock at the attack,” Nahshon said. “This is a top priority to us, as we are fully committed to diplomats’ safety and security.”
Ties between the two countries became strained in January 2018 when Poland passed a law that criminalized blaming the Polish nation for the crimes of Nazi Germany during World War II. Poland’s conservative nationalist government described it as an effort to end linguistic formulations such as “Polish death camps” to refer to the death camps that Germans operated on occupied Polish territory during the war.
However, many people in Israel felt it was an attempt by the Polish government to repress debate and scholarship looking at the cases of those Poles who helped the Nazis in killing Jews during the occupation.
The law was softened but tensions have continued to simmer, with tensions coming to the surface from time to time.
Earlier this week the Polish government canceled a visit by an Israeli delegation, saying the Israeli government made last-minute changes that suggested it would focus on the issue of the restitution of former Jewish property. The Polish government insists that the matter is closed and that because it lost so much in the war it will pay nothing.