I am no an­tisemite, in­sists Cameron ally

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY MARTIN BRIGHT

WHEN I fi­nally in­ter­view Michal Kamin­ski he is looking ex­tremely flus­tered, not to say hounded, by the at­ten­tion he has re­ceived dur­ing his fly­ing visit to Con­ser­va­tive Party con­fer­ence. The con­tro­ver­sial leader of David Cameron’s new al­lies in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment has been chased into a fringe meet­ing by a woman from Chan­nel 4 and to the doors of a lunch hosted by Con­ser­va­tive Friends of Is­rael.

Al­le­ga­tions about his far-right past have quite lit­er­ally pur­sued him to a suite at Manch­ester’s Mid­land Ho­tel. Here it is that the 37-year-old head of the new Euro­pean Con­ser­va­tives and Re­formists group­ing has cho­sen to ex­plain his con­tro­ver­sial past state­ments, which range from the Holo­caust and the role of Jewish par­ti­sans in the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion, to Gen­eral Pinochet and ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity.

In his only in­ter­view with a Bri­tish news­pa­per, he says he wel­comes the op­por­tu­nity to re­as­sure read­ers of the JC that he is no an­tisemite.

“If you grew up in Poland, if you saw the traces of the Holo­caust in my coun­try, the ac­cu­sa­tion of be­ing an an­tisemite is, I think, re­ally hard,” he says. “Be­ing an an­tisemite is some­thing which is con­tra­dic­tory to all my be­liefs, start­ing with my re­li­gious be­liefs as a Chris­tian and end­ing with my po­lit­i­cal con­ser­va­tive views.” He adds that he con­sid­ers that west­ern civil­i­sa­tion is es­sen­tially Judeo-Chris­tian and there­fore “cre­ated to a big ex­tent by Jews”.

Mr Kamin­ski says that he un­der- stands the con­cerns raised by some of the al­le­ga­tions against him. His colour­ful CV has al­ready caused acute em­bar­rass­ment to the Con­ser­va­tive Party and pro­vided am­mu­ni­tion to those who say Cameron has re­jected the main­stream cen­tre-right in Europe in favour of a rag­tag bunch of apol­o­gists for fas­cism.

At the same time, his ro­bust sup­port for Is­rael pro­vides An­glo-Jews with a dilemma. His sta­tus as guest of hon­our at the CFI lunch demon­strates the level of trust he com­mands among lead­ing Jewish Tories. His visit to Is­rael last month saw him wel­comed by Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Danny Ayalon.

But how does this square with Mr Kamin­ski’s po­lit­i­cal be­gin­nings with the far-right Na­tional Re­vival of Poland party (NOP)? The party he joined as a teenager is said to have pledged that “Jews will be re­moved from Poland and their pos­ses­sions con­fis­cated”.

His re­sponse is that he was just 15 when he joined the NOP in 1987 when it was still an un­der­ground move­ment. Two years later it merged into the main­stream Con­ser­va­tive Chris­tian Na­tional Union. “It was for me the first avail­able op­tion to join the anti-Com­mu­nist move­ment and when I was 17 I left this group,” he says, adding that there was no ev­i­dence of a neo-fas­cist ten­dency at the time. “When I was a mem­ber of them, I don’t re­mem­ber. Maybe you will find that some­one will… but as far as I know it was a party which was Catholic and na­tion­al­ist-ori­en­tated.”

Mr Kamin­ski him­self raises the is­sue of Jed­wabne, a town in the north-east of Poland which was the site of a mas­sacre of hun­dreds of its Jewish in­hab­i­tants in July 1941 by a mob of Poles. Sixty years later, the then Pol­ish Pres­i­dent Alek­sander Kwas­niewski is­sued an apol­ogy for the atroc­ity, but the is­sue was hugely di­vi­sive. As the deputy in the Pol­ish par­lia­ment re­spon­si­ble for the area, Mr Kamin­ski ex­pressed his op­po­si­tion to a gen­er­alised apol­ogy, a de­ci­sion he stands by.

“From the very beginning I was say­ing as a hu­man be­ing, as a Pole, that Jed­wabne was a ter­ri­ble crime, un­for­tu­nately com­mit­ted by the Pol­ish peo­ple. My point was from the very start: we are ashamed of th­ese peo­ple, we have to con­demn them, we have to judge them if they are still alive. But I don’t want to take the whole re­spon­si­bil­ity for this crime for the whole Pol­ish na­tion.”

He adds that he doesn’t be­lieve the Jed­wabne mas­sacre should be classified on the same level as the Holo­caust. “I think that it’s un­fair com­par­ing it with Nazi crimes and putting it with the same level as the Nazi pol­icy.”

More dif­fi­cult for Mr Kamin­ski (and po­ten­tially Mr Cameron) is the sug­ges­tion that the Pol­ish politi­cian claimed no apol­ogy should be made un­til Jews apol­o­gised for al­leged Jewish crimes

of col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Soviet Union. His an­swer is in­ge­nious. He says that ask­ing the Poles as a whole to apol­o­gise for Jed­wabne would make as much sense as ask­ing the Jews to apol­o­gise for al­leged Jewish in­volve­ment in Com­mu­nist crimes.

It is a theme to which he re­turns later in the in­ter­view: “My po­si­tion is that there were acts of col­lab­o­ra­tion of the Jewish peo­ple with the Soviet army when the Soviet army came to Poland. It’s a fact. It’s a his­tor­i­cal fact… If you are ask­ing the Pol­ish na­tion to apol­o­gise for the crime made in Jed­wabne, you would re­quire from the whole Jewish na­tion to apol­o­gise for what some Jewish Com­mu­nists did in East­ern Poland.”

I ask him about an in­ter­view he gave to the ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist Pol­ish news­pa­per Nacza Pol­ska at the time of the apol­ogy, when he is al­leged to have said he would only apol­o­gise for Jed­wabne when “some­one from the Jewish side will apol­o­gise for what the Jews did dur­ing the Soviet oc­cu­pa­tion be­tween 1939 and 1941, for the mass col­lab­o­ra­tion of the Jewish peo­ple with the Soviet oc­cu­pier.” He claims he does not re­mem­ber giv­ing the in­ter­view. Does he recog­nise the words as his? “I ab­so­lutely do not recog­nise them. It was nine years ago.” He adds that of­fi­cial state­ments at the time made his po­si­tion on the mat­ter clear.

I ask him about his use of the slo­gan “Poland is for the Poles”, which is said to have as­so­ci­a­tions with pre-war Pol­ish ul­tra-na­tion­al­ism. He says he had been re­fer­ring to Poland’s cor­rup­tion scan­dals of 2000 when the new democ­racy was se­ri­ously un­der threat. “We have to give Poland to Poles but….not in a racial or na­tion­al­is­tic sense but in terms of democ­racy. We want to give back Pol­ish democ­racy to the Poles, to the cit­i­zens.” I ask him to clar­ify claims that he ex­pressed pride in wear­ing the Chro­bry sword, the sym­bol of the Na­tional Rad­i­cal Camp Falanga, a Catholic to­tal­i­tar­ian group formed in 1935. He is­sues a cat­e­gor­i­cal de­nial: “No, I never wear it. I don’t even know which sym­bol you are re­fer­ring to.”

There is no doubt there has been a con­certed at­tempt by David Cameron’s po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies to dis­credit Mr Kamin­ski. But there are ar­eas of his own po­lit­i­cal bi­og­ra­phy where he ad­mits he made se­ri­ous er­rors of judg­ment. In 1999, he vis­ited the Chilean dic­ta­tor Au­gusto Pinochet in Lon­don, an event he de­scribed as “the most im­por­tant mo­ment of my whole life”. He later made a state­ment to the Pol­ish par­lia­ment say­ing he re­gret­ted his ac­tions. He says: “I think I made a mis­take vis­it­ing Pinochet. A de­cent politi­cian should have the courage to ad­mit the mis­take”.

I won­der if he thinks it was also a mis­take to have de­scribed ho­mo­sex­u­als as “ped­aly”, a deroga­tory term akin to “shirt-lifters”. Again he ad­mits an er­ror of judge­ment. “I said I would never use th­ese words again. But please re­mem­ber it was a word used com­monly by Pol­ish politi­cians about ho­mo­sex­u­als.

“Since I dis­cov­ered that this word was of­fen­sive in the eyes of ho­mo­sex­u­als, I never used it again.”

As we end the in­ter­view he talks of his pride at head­ing up the new con­ser­va­tive group­ing in the Euro­pean par­lia­ment and his great re­spect for Bri­tish Con­ser­vatism. But Mr Kamin­ski can­not have imag­ined that he would end up as such a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure for the party that has in­spired his pol­i­tics for so long.

The cre­ation of the ECR has been a huge risk for David Cameron, brought about be­cause he needed to pro­vide some “red meat” to the Euroscep­tics in his party. In the fi­nal irony, though, it turns out that Mr Kamin­ski is him­self an en­thu­si­as­tic Europhile who has em­braced the Lis­bon Treaty so hated by the right-wing of the Bri­tish Con­ser­va­tive Party. “I was on the side of those who were in favour of the Lis­bon Treaty. It is well known in Poland. It is not a se­cret,” he says.

I apol­o­gise that so much of the in­ter­view has been taken up by al­le­ga­tions from Mr Kamin­ski’s po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies. To his credit he says that it has been im­por­tant to an­swer his crit­ics.

Michal Kamin­ski talks to Is­raeli am­bas­sador to the UK Ron Prosor dur­ing the Con­ser­va­tive Friends of Is­rael lunch at the Tory Party Con­fer­ence this week

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