WASHINGTON, June 2, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Foreign Minister of Poland, Radoslaw Sikorski, delivered a moving address to the annual AJC Global Forum this evening. He stressed his country's enduring commitment to the transatlantic partnership, expressed admiration for Israel, and recounted the tragic loss of most of his country's Jewish community during World War II.
"The American Jewish Committee has been a huge friend of Poland," said Sikorski. He cited in particular AJC support for Poland's membership in NATO and the European Union, and ongoing advocacy for Poland to be included in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program.
The close link with AJC, the foreign minister explained, is part of a larger relationship Poland enjoys with the U.S. that is based on economic and security cooperation, and, importantly, shared values. "Immediate political interests come and go. It is partnerships based on shared values and instincts that count," said Sikorski.
Endorsing the strategic importance of the transatlantic relationship, Sikorski said that "EU-U.S. teamwork and leadership remain the only way to make a difference. We need to stand tall – to be proud of what makes us strong, prosperous and stable."
Sikorski addressed the opening plenary session of AJC's Global Forum. The foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic also spoke.
Shared values also underlie Poland's ties with Israel. "On every count our bilateral relations are good and strong," said the foreign minister. Sikorski was listed as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy magazine in 2012.
"Poland's basic policy on Israel is principled and unambiguous," said Sikorski." Poland affirms Israel's right to exist within secure borders. Poland affirms Israel's right to defend itself."
"After what happened in World War II to the Jewish community in Poland and across Europe, no one should expect today's Israel to sit meekly and wait to be attacked," Sikorski said.
The foreign minister spoke empathetically about the threats Israel continues to face from Hamas, Iran and Syria. "It's one thing to face grave, even existential threats. It's another thing to respond wisely and well, 100 percent of the time," said Sikorski.
Regarding the peace process, the foreign minister pointed out that "Poland doesn't – and need not – support everything Israel does to maintain its security, or its handling of Palestinian issues," such as "Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories."
Reflecting with admiration on Poland's Jewish community, Sikorski asked the audience of more than 1,500 to go back with him to 1933, when Poland was home to more than three million Jews, the largest Jewish community in Europe, and imagine that then Polish Foreign Minister August Zaleski was addressing AJC.
"Zaleski assures the AJC that Poland's Jewish community is part of Poland's very identity. Like Poland itself, it will grow from strength to strength," said Sikorski. He gave examples of the vibrancy of Jewish life – culture, newspapers, and politics – that was integral to Poland.
And, then, "Zaleski's optimism was crushed. Hitler and Stalin attacked Poland," Sikorski somberly recounted. During the war six million Polish citizens, half of them Jewish victims of the Nazi Final Solution, perished. "Poland lost almost 3,000 people, a 9/11, each day for six years," said Sikorski.
But it was also a time when valiant individuals emerged, determined to protect Jews and fight against the Nazis. Sikorski then called out one member of the audience, Stanislaw Aronson, for special recognition.
"Thank you for what you and so many others did to fight for Poland and for freedom," said Sikorski. "Like Witold Pilecki, this man was a freedom fighter on an almost superhuman scale." Aronson, a young Polish Jew, whose family was taken to the death camps, joined the Polish underground and fought against the Nazis in the Warsaw Uprising.
Returning to the present day, the foreign minister spoke of the transitions Poland has experienced over the past 20 years. "Poland today is free, strong and getting stronger," said Sikorski, adding that "with great freedom comes great responsibility."
He emphasized that "part of the responsibility lies in making sure that today's Jewish community in Poland is safe, welcome and respected." He spoke about the growing Jewish community in Poland, the "Jewish renaissance" seen in Jewish events and festivals, and the recent opening in Warsaw of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
"We are honored that Minister Sikorski made a special trip from Warsaw to address us tonight," said AJC Executive Director David Harris. "AJC was the first Jewish advocacy organization in the world to reach out to Poland immediately after the Polish people ousted the Communist regime, and against the backdrop of the complex history of Polish-Jewish relations.
"Since then, our ties have grown rapidly from year to year. We are proud to see the progress achieved in Polish-American and Polish-Israeli relations, the reemergence of a small but vibrant Polish Jewish community, and the steady development of democratic Poland as a thriving nation, as well as a NATO and EU member."
SOURCE American Jewish Committee
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