Poland’s prime minister on Wednesday condemned what he described as a “xenophobic” assault on the country’s ambassador to Israel, who was spat at on a Tel Aviv street at a time of rising tensions between the two nations.
Israeli officials expressed shock at the assault on Marek Magierowski on Tuesday afternoon and were investigating the incident. Israeli police said they had detained and released Arik Lederman, 65, who had spit on the ambassador while he sat in his car.
Lederman released a statement apologizing and explaining why he did it: “I would like to express my apologies. My family experienced the Holocaust and my appeal to the embassy was on the matter of restitution of property.”
The incident occurred after he had been turned away from the Polish Embassy on Tuesday after trying to inquire about restitution, Walla News said, quoting his lawyer.
He said that he had reacted when a security guard at the embassy called him a “zhid,” a derogatory term for a Jew, and that he did not know the identity of the Polish envoy. He asked to apologize in person, according to The Times of Israel.
“I hope that with this, the incident will come to an end and will be kept in proportion,” he said.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the suspect would remain under house arrest until Thursday and is “not permitted to be in the area of the Polish embassy for 30 days.”
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.
Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari was summoned to the Polish Foreign Ministry in Warsaw on Wednesday over the incident. Michal Dworczyk, the head of Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s office, said the Polish government expects the perpetrator to be punished.
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.”