Polish far-right MP who attacked Hanukkah candles stripped of immunity from prosecution

Parliament has voted to remove the legal immunity of Grzegorz Braun, the far-right MP who last month attacked a Jewish religious celebration. Every main parliamentary group other than Braun’s own Confederation (Konfederacja) supported the move.

Prosecutors want to bring seven charges against Braun, who has a long history of controversial statements and actions, including promoting various conspiracy theories regarding Jews, LGBT people and the coronavirus pandemic.

A far-right MP has been expelled from parliament after using a fire extinguisher to put out Hanukkah candles lit during a ceremony involving Polish-Jewish leaders and Israel’s ambassador.

His actions have been condemned across the political spectrum https://t.co/YxG9bv8FQN

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 12, 2023

Two of the charges relate to the incident in December when Braun used a fire extinguisher to put out candles that had just been lit to celebrate the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. One of those charges is for the crime of “insulting an object of religious worship”, which carries a potential prison sentence of up to two years.

Other charges relate to assault and defamation against former health minister Łukasz Szumowski, reports the Polish Press Agency (PAP). Szumowski was a primary target for Braun’s criticism of lockdown restrictions and vaccination drives during the pandemic.

Further charges – of damage to property and breach of the peace – relate to one incident in which Braun disrupted a lecture by a Polish-Jewish Holocaust scholar and another in which he removed a Christmas tree from a courthouse because it was decorated with EU and LGBT flags.

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

Today, the Sejm, the lower house of parliament in which Braun sits, was asked to vote seven times on whether to strip him of immunity to face each of the charges. MPs are normally immune from prosecution.

In each of the votes, a large majority of MPs (ranging between 386 and 402 in the 460-seat chamber) supported withdrawing Braun’s immunity.

In a debate before the votes, Braun took to the podium to give a speech in which he defended his attack on the hanukkiah by claiming that “Talmudists are racists” who follow a “false cult” and his attack on the Christmas tree because it “was decorated by pederasts and eurofederalists”.

One of the leaders of Confederation, Sławomir Mentzen, accused MPs from the ruling coalition of hypocrisy, noting that they had supported abortion protesters who “attacked churches” but now wanted to see Braun charged for attacking a Jewish ceremony.

A group of 32 demonstrators who held a protest against Poland’s near-total abortion ban in a cathedral during Sunday mass have been acquitted of “maliciously interfering with a religious act”, a crime that carries a sentence of up to two years in prison https://t.co/w1YCnNWgK4

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 13, 2023

Braun’s actions have, however, been condemned by MPs from across the rest of the political spectrum, many of whom attended a specially organised ceremony a few days after the incident at which the Hanukkah candles were lit again.

Some MPs also called for Confederation’s deputy speaker of the Sejm, Krzysztof Bosak, to be removed from the position because his group has only suspended Braun rather than expelling him.

However, in a separate vote, also held today, the Sejm decided not to remove Bosak as deputy speaker. Only 26 MPs voted in favour of the idea, mostly from The Left (Lewica).

Almost all MPs from the centrist Civic Coalition (KO), the main ruling party, abstained while almost all from the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, the main opposition, did not attend the vote. The centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga) voted against the motion to dismiss Bosak.

Jewish leaders and politicians from across the spectrum, including the president, joined a ceremony in parliament to light the Hanukkiah that was put out with a fire extinguisher by a far-right MP.

“This is the true face of Poland,” said the chief rabbi https://t.co/y3rLLqvuBn

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) December 14, 2023

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Dawid Zuchowicz / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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