Sunday, May 28, 2006 Posted: 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
OSWIECIM, Poland (Reuters) -- Poland's chief rabbi and Israel's ambassador in Warsaw urged the conservative-led government on Sunday to counter anti-Semitism after the Jewish cleric was attacked in the capital.
Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich and ambassador David Peleg said they viewed the attack as an act of hooliganism but that the entry of far-right League of Polish Families into a coalition with the conservatives could be encouraging racism.
"We are taking this incident very seriously," Peleg told Reuters. "I have said in the past that the inclusion of the League in the coalition would create an atmosphere conducive to such incidents."
Schudrich was attacked in central Warsaw on Saturday in what the Interior Ministry said might have been a provocation meant to portray Poland as anti-Semitic during Pope Benedict's visit.
The German Pope was due to visit the Auschwitz death camp, set up by Nazis during World War Two, later on Sunday to pray in memory of its 1.5 million victims, mostly Jews.
Schudrich said his assailant, a man in his 20s, appeared to have been racially motivated. He said this was the first case of a physical attack on a Jewish community member in years.
"While I was walking in Warsaw, someone yelled 'Poland is for Poles'," Schudrich, a New Yorker who became Chief Rabbi of Warsaw in 2000 and of Poland in 2004, told Reuters on Sunday.
"I went back and asked him why he said that and then he hit me and sprayed me with something like pepper gas."
The Polish government and politicians from the ruling Law and Justice party condemned the attack on Schudrich. The police said it was searching for the attacker.
"There is no the slightest permission for anti-Semitism in Poland," government spokesman Konrad Ciesiolkiewicz said.
"We regret the incident...and our pain is compounded by the fact that this happened during the visit of the Holy Father Pope Benedict."
Peleg said Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz had reassured him and Schudrich in telephone calls that Warsaw was taking the incident very seriously.
Last week, Peleg met Polish officials to express Israeli concerns about the conservatives' alliance with the League of Polish Families, whose members and followers had in the past made anti-Semitic and xenophobic remarks.