Far-right lawmaker Grzegorz Braun shocks Polish parliament by using fire extinguisher on menorah

World News

(JR) — In a shocking display, far-right Polish lawmaker Grzegorz Braun, a well-known antisemitic provocateur, used a fire extinguisher to blow out the candles of a menorah in Poland’s parliament building on Tuesday before calling Hanukkah “Satanic.”

Videos from the scene showed white mist from the extinguisher filling much of a chamber in the building where a large menorah had been lit.

Parliament speaker Szymon Holownia expelled Braun from Tuesday’s parliament session in Warsaw and later said Braun would lose part of his salary for three months. Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Sholom Ber Stambler, who was in the parliament building for a Hanukkah celebration, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that a woman who struggled with Braun as he sprayed the extinguisher’s fumes throughout a chamber in the building was taken to a hospital due to respiratory issues.

Stambler had lit the menorah before parliamentary proceedings, which involved the voting in of new Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his cabinet. Braun, strongly opposed to the pro-European Union Tusk — who defeated the right-wing Law and Justice party in recent elections — left the vote and began using the fire extinguisher.

“It was a shock,” said Stambler, head of Chabad of Poland, the Hasidic movement’s local branch. “For the first few minutes, you just don’t understand what’s going on physically.”

Szymon Holownia, the Polish parliament speaker, on left with Rabbi Sholom Ber Stambler in the Polish parliament building, Dec. 12, 2023. (Chabad of Poland)

Stambler said a range of parliament members across the political spectrum reached out to send him well wishes in the hours after the incident. Braun’s own party condemned his behavior on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. A representative of Poland’s Catholic church also issued a statement apologizing to “the entire Jewish community in Poland.”

Tusk previously served as prime minister of Poland from 2007-2014 before serving as president of the European Council, an EU body, from 2014-2019. The Law and Justice party, which staunchly opposes immigration and has had mixed relations with local Jews, had been in power since 2015. In 2021, the party passed a law limiting Holocaust restitution that critics said was meant to whitewash Poland’s World War II history. The legislation also kicked off a years-long diplomatic spat with Israel.

Stambler was appointed a Chabad emissary in Poland in 2005. He said that while he has watched antisemitic incidents increase across Europe since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, Jews in Poland have been relatively insulated from the phenomenon.

He attributed that to Poland’s relatively small population of Muslims. Muslim-led groups across Europe have organized large pro-Palestinian actions, some of which have seen antisemitic acts or rhetoric.

“I get to read some news and I don’t understand how can it be in our world? And I said to myself, you know, I live in Poland, but I don’t see such things,” he said. “Somebody called me from Antwerp and he said, ‘Ah, you live in Poland, you’re okay.’ Because now the most safe place in the world for Jews is Warsaw and Budapest, because there are no Muslims here.”

Braun, who is also critical of Polish Protestants, was first elected to Poland’s parliament in 2019 as a member of the far-right KKP party, which advocates for monarchism.

“He managed to get people evacuated, but I received so many messages of solidarity,” Stambler said. “I think that in a way he also made a wave of tolerance, of freedom of religion, of mutual respect. And I deeply hope that this will be the message from this entire event.”