A prominent US Jewish leader is urging the Polish Catholic Church “to stand up to filthy antisemitic stereotypes”.

Driving the news

Earlier in December, German-owned retail giant OBI, Europe’s largest DIY and home improvements chain, caused controversy over the sale in Poland of portraits of Orthodox Jews counting gold coins.

Commenting on the ensuing fracas, Polish website Fakt24 observed that “the image of ‘the Jew and his money’ has taken root in Polish culture to such an extent that most of us have stopped paying attention to its negative connotations. On the contrary — it is treated as an amulet, which is hanged [sic] in the corridor to attract financial good fortune”.

Fakt24 continued: “Although today it is associated rather positively, it originates from the antisemitic stereotype of the Jew as exploiter, bloodsucker and fraudster”.

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A social media outcry led by Polish musician and advocate for the Ukrainian minority in Poland, Tomasz Sikora, led to OBI withdrawing the offending antisemitic portraits from sale.

OBI’s decision was welcomed by US national director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Abraham Foxman, who said however that the Catholic Church should follow suit and likewise condemn “these filthy anti-Jewish products” and the stereotypes behind them.

“I would like to appeal with all my heart to the Primate of Poland, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, to urge Polish bishops and priests to stand up to this phenomenon” of anti-Jewish hate, Foxman said.

“This is an old antisemitic stereotype that has resulted in the murder of Jews down the centuries. Let us stand in solidarity against this form of antisemitism”, the ADL director emeritus explained, adding that the present Christmas and Hanukkah holidays were the ideal time for the Church to extend support to Jews.

OBI’s decision to pull the antisemitic products needed to be met with the moral leadership of the Church, Foxman continued.

“The Church can play a very positive role”, the Jewish leader said.

“To say that this is a religious and moral wrong, I think that would go a long way”.

Why it matters

Just how deep antisemitic tendencies run in certain circles of the Polish Church was on display a fortnight ago when authorities arrested far-right leader and former priest Jacek Miedlar – once investigated for calling Jews a “cancer” in a sermon – in connection with an online manifesto that accuses Jews of betraying Poland after independence in 1918.

The Polish Bishops were also criticised in July for keeping silent about the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in the city of Tarnów.

The Polish episcopate is also embroiled in ongoing controversies over the restitution of properties to Holocaust survivors.

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