A far-right MP was expelled from parliament after using a fire extinguisher to put out Hanukkah candles that had been lit during a ceremony involving Polish-Jewish leaders and Israel’s ambassador.
The actions of the MP in question, Grzegorz Braun, who has a long history of promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories, have been condemned across the rest of the political spectrum. As well as expelling him from parliament, the speaker has also announced that he will report Braun to prosecutors.
Skandaliczne zachowanie Grzegorza Brauna w Sejmie pic.twitter.com/wWTO8vGP6F
— Sebastian Napieraj (@sebastiantvn24) December 12, 2023
The incident took place amid a busy day in parliament. This morning, the incoming prime minister, Donald Tusk, presented his proposed government and lower-house Sejm had subsequently been debating the issue ahead of a vote of confidence that Tusk is expected to comfortably win.
Proceedings in the house had to be suspended, however, after Braun approached a hanukkiah that had been lit in parliamentary halls and then sprayed it with a fire extinguisher he had removed from a wall.
Israel’s ambassador, Yacov Livne, shared a video of the incident and noted that it had taken place shortly after the lighting of the candles. “Shame,” he wrote.
SHAME. A Polish Parliament member just did this. Few minutes after we celebrated Chanukah there. https://t.co/Zap03waB6k
— Amb. Yacov Livne 🇮🇱 (@YacovLivne) December 12, 2023
A member of parliament, Michał Szczerba, who is chairman of the Polish-Israeli Parliamentary Group, also shared photos of the ceremony.
“Unfortunately, the atmosphere of the celebration was brutally disturbed by the attack of a Confederation MP,” wrote Szczerba, referring to the far-right Confederation (Konferedacja) party that Braun is one of the leaders of.
“This act must be punished most severely!” he added. “Poland is a safe home for everyone. Religious freedom is a constitutional right.”
“This is one of the darkest days for the Jewish community, the Sejm and ordinary society,” said Piotr Wiślicki, head of the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute. “I am ashamed that Poland chose such a terrible representative of our nation as a member of the Sejm.”
Dziś jako przewodniczący Polsko-Izraelskiej Grupy Parlamentarnej Sejmu IX kadencji razem z ambasadorem @YacovLivne i rabinami uczestniczyłem w uroczystości zapalenia menory chanukowej w Sejmie. Niestety atmosfera uroczystości została brutalnie zakłócona atakiem posła… pic.twitter.com/QM8E8XtHCk
— Michał Szczerba (@MichalSzczerba) December 12, 2023
Meanwhile, Braun himself returned to the parliamentary chamber, where he came to the podium to explain his actions.
“There can be no place for the acts of this racist, tribal, wild Talmudic cult on the premises of the Sejm,” he declared, to which other MPs reacted with boos.
“You are not aware of the message of this act innocently called Hanukkah,” he continued. “I am restoring a state of normality by putting an end to acts of satanic, racist triumphalism, because that is the message of these holidays.”
Wyzywam wszystkich tu zebranych, a także słuchaczy i widzów na dysputę historyczno-teologiczną. Chętnie wykażę ignorancję! pic.twitter.com/odWvYj1mQ2
— Grzegorz Braun (@GrzegorzBraun_) December 12, 2023
The speaker of the Sejm, Szymon Hołownia, then announced that he was excluding Braun from proceedings. Speaking to the media outside the chamber, Hołownia called Braun’s actions and words “scandalous”.
He said that the Sejm’s leadership, known as the presidium, would meet to decide on a financial penalty for the far-right MP. “After determining the precise nature of Mr. Braun’s actions on the basis of recordings, an application against him will be submitted to the prosecutor’s office,” added Hołownia, quoted by broadcaster TVN.
Later, after a meeting of the presidium, Hołownia announced that they had issued the maximum possible punishment, which was half of Braun’s parliamentary salary for a period of three months and his entire parliamentary allowance for six months.
Hołownia noted that the decision was supported by the entire presidium apart from the one member belonging to Braun’s Confederation party, Krzysztof Bosak, who abstained from voting.
‼️Marszałek Sejmu @szymon_holownia podjął decyzję o wykluczeniu z obrad pos. Grzegorza Brauna, który wcześniej zgasił menorę przy użyciu gaśnicy. Po incydencie zarządzono przerwę w obradach – sprawą zajmuje się Prezydium Sejmu i Konwent Seniorów. pic.twitter.com/m4Lh7jeCJM
— Sejm RP🇵🇱 (@KancelariaSejmu) December 12, 2023
Hołownia is one of the leaders of Tusk’s incoming ruling coalition. Tusk himself called Braun’s actions “a disgrace” and “unacceptable”. Piotr Gliński, a deputy leader of Law and Justice (PiS), the outgoing ruling party, also condemned Braun’s actions as “crossing a terrible line”.
The head of the Polish Catholic church’s committee for dialogue with Judaism, Cardinal Grzegorz Ryś, issued a statement in which he “declared that I am ashamed and apologise to the entire Jewish community in Poland”.
Szalom Dow Ber Stambler, a rabbi who had led the candle-lighting ceremony, rejected Braun’s false characterisation of the celebration. “Hanukkah candles symbolise tolerance, religious freedom and identity for every citizen of the world,” he told TVN.
Earlier this year, Braun forced the abandonment of a lecture being given by a Holocaust by disrupting the event. He has a long history of promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories, including claiming that the US and Israel are involved in a plot to turn Poland into a “Jewish state”.
A lecture by Polish-Canadian Holocaust scholar Jan Grabowski at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw was abandoned yesterday after a far-right MP disrupted the event in order to prevent „anti-Polish propaganda in which [Poles] are cast as villains”https://t.co/dekupZ5Pi4
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 31, 2023
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Main image credit: Patryk Michalski/Twitter
Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign Policy, POLITICO Europe, EUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.