Israel is urging Polish and Roman Catholic authorities to condemn a prominent priest over reported anti-Jewish comments, which its ambassador described yesterday as the worst case of anti-Semitic speech in Poland in decades.
Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, who runs a conservative press and broadcast empire that includes the Catholic station Radio Maryja, was allegedly caught on tape suggesting that Jews are greedy and that President Kaczynski of Poland is subservient to Jewish lobbies.
The remarks allegedly were made in the spring, but they only surfaced this month in the weekly magazine Wprost. Father Rydzyk himself has rejected accusations of anti-Semitism and said he "didn't intend to offend anyone."
Israel's ambassador to Poland, David Peleg, said the statements mark a setback in the progress Poland has made toward Jewish-Catholic reconciliation and in fighting anti-Semitism since the fall of communism.
He said extensive diplomatic efforts were under way to persuade Warsaw to condemn the priest.
"I think that this is the strongest anti-Semitic remark here in Poland since 1968," Mr. Peleg told the Associated Press. "We hope that the government, on one hand, and the Catholic Church, on the other hand, will make a statement condemning this anti-Semitic remark."
Mr. Peleg has asked the office of Prime Minister Kaczynski, as well as the foreign and justice ministries, to take action.
"I definitely think that one of the aims of Father Rydzyk is to damage the very important dialogue which Catholics and Jews have developed," Mr. Peleg said, adding that he would also meet today with a bishop in Lublin in charge of Jewish-Catholic dialogue.
So far, Poland's leaders have withheld comment, saying they were waiting to see if the tapes were authentic.
But the Rome-based Redemptorists — the missionary order to which Father Rydzyk belongs — supported him last week in Nasz Dziennik, a daily newspaper that belongs to Father Rydzyk's press and broadcast empire.
Hundreds in Poland condemn priest's comments as anti-Semitic
More than 700 people in Poland, including a former prime minister and foreign minister, signed an open letter condemning statements about Jews by a right-wing Roman Catholic priest who runs a controversial radio station.
A magazine had reported that Rev. Tadeusz Rydzyk, during a lecture earlier this year at a journalism school, described Jews as greedy and criticized President Lech Kaczynski for donating land in Warsaw for a Jewish museum.
Hundreds of people — including former Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki and former Auschwitz inmate and Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski — signed the letter, saying Rydzyk's comments "revealed his contempt" for Jews and fellow Christians.
"As Polish Catholics, laymen and clergy, we express our moral protest against the worsening statements of the director of Radio Maryja," the letter says. "It hurts us that the contemptible and anti-Semitic statements come from a representative of our church."
The letter, posted on the Web site of the Krakow-based Center for Culture and Dialogue, calls on Roman Catholic Church leaders to bring him in line with church teaching that anti-Semitism is a sin.
Rydzyk is founder and director of Nasz Dziennik newspaper and ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja, which has been granted interviews with members the conservative government, including Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's twin brother. Its television partner, Trwam, received exclusive access to the signing of a preliminary coalition agreement that launched the current government in 2005.
Rydzyk provided a forum for members of Kaczynski's Law and Justice party in parliamentary and presidential elections in late 2005.
The Polish weekly "Wprost" published excerpts from a lecture Rydzyk allegedly delivered at a journalism school he established in the central Polish city of Torun, where Radio Maryja is headquartered.
In the lecture, Rydzyk was quoted as criticizing Kaczynski, the president, for bowing to pressure to compensate people — many of them Jews — for property nationalized by the postwar communist government, and for donating land for a future Jewish museum when Kaczynski was Warsaw's mayor.
"You know that it's about Poland giving US$65 billion dollars" to the Jews, Rydzyk reportedly said. "They will come to you and say: give me your coat. Take off your pants. Give me your shoes."
A woman who answered the phone at Radio Maryja said there was no one immediately available to provide comment.
Rydzyk belongs to the Redemptorist order, led by Superior General Joseph W. Tobin in Rome. On Thursday, an official who answered the phone at the Redemptorists' headquarters in Rome would not comment. Calls to the order's office in Warsaw went unanswered.
Leading Jewish rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Los Angelese-based Simon Wiesenthal Center have also condemned Rydzyk's statements.