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Polish fans applaud Israeli anthem at football game in “inspiring sporting spectacle”

Warsaw, Poland – Thousands of Polish football supporters attending Monday’s Euro qualifier in Warsaw between Poland and Israel applauded the Israeli anthem after a small minority tried to drown it out with whistles and jeers.

“Thank you for an inspiring sporting spectacle. See you in Jerusalem,” tweeted a spokesperson for the Israel Football Association. Poland won the game 4-0, thanks to goals by Piątek, Lewandowski, Grosicki and Kądzior, which took them top of Group G. The return leg in Jerusalem will take place on 16 November. 

Stewards and security guards took extraordinary measures to prevent the eruption of violence during the match, which ended without incident. However, on its official Facebook page, the Polish soccer association described its team’s victory over Israel as a “pogrom,” a term closely associated with anti-Semitic violence perpetrated against Jews in Poland and throughout Europe.

“This is a pogrom! Winning over Israel 4:0!” the update read.

Derived from the Russian verb “to destroy”, the word “pogrom” emerged in the late nineteenth century to describe the systematic explosions of mass violence targeting Jewish communities throughout Russia and Eastern Europe.

If the word has by now been removed from the team’s Facebook page, it needs to be pointed out that, in Poland, it is often used to describe other forms of violence and bloodshed and is not so closely related to anti-Semitism as it is in English.

The game came at a sensitive time for Polish-Israeli relations. Tensions between Poland and Israel have been rising for some time, and reached their peak when the Polish government passed the so-called “Holocaust law” criminalizing the attribution of Nazi Germany’s crimes during World War II to Poland and Poles, including the use of the phrase “Polish death camps”.

In February, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki cancelled a trip to Jerusalem, where he was supposed to attend a summit with Visegrad Group leaders and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after the latter’s controversial remarks about the collaboration of some Polish people with Nazi Germany during the war. In March, a right-wing Polish newspaper faced backlash for running an article on “How to Spot a Jew” on its front-page.

In April, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) slammed a Polish town’s Good Friday ritual lynching of a Judas effigy, labelled as a “ghastly revival of medieval anti-Semitism”. To warn of the rise of anti-Semitic rhetoric in Poland, a Warsaw theatre recently staged a play based on ‘Mein Kampf’, “to show that the language used by politicians, by everyone in Poland, is worse that the language of Hitler”. Just last month, the Polish ambassador to Israel assaulted and spat on in Tel Aviv.

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