By Anna Koper
WARSAW (Reuters) -A far-right Polish lawmaker used a fire extinguisher to put out Hanukkah candles in the country’s parliament on Tuesday during an event with members of the Jewish community, provoking outrage and leading the speaker to exclude him from the sitting.
The disruption came ahead of a key vote on whether to approve newly appointed pro-EU prime minister Donald Tusk.
Footage posted on the website of private broadcaster TVN24 showed Grzegorz Braun of the Confederation party take the extinguisher before walking across the lobby of the parliament to where the candles were, creating a white cloud and forcing security guards to rush people out of the area.
Members of the Jewish community, including children, had gone to parliament at speaker Szymon Holownia’s invitation for its annual Hanukkah celebrations.
The footage showed people in the vicinity covered in powder from the extinguisher.
Afterwards Braun took to the podium in the chamber where he described Hanukkah as “satanic” and said he was restoring “normality”.
Asked just after the incident if he was ashamed, Braun replied: “Those who take part in acts of satanic worship should be ashamed.”
Magdalena Gudzinska-Adamczyk was present at the scene and footage showed her challenging Braun as he extinguished the candles.
“I feel very short of breath and have trouble speaking,” she told TVN24, her face covered in white powder. “I have stopped feeling safe in this country.”
Holownia excluded Braun from the sitting of parliament and said he would inform prosecutors about his actions.
He later said that Braun would lose half of his salary for three months and all parliamentary expenses for six months.
“There will be no tolerance for racism, xenophobia, antisemitism … as long as I am the speaker of parliament,” Holownia told reporters.
Braun, who has previously caused a ruckus by approaching and shouting at lawmakers as they address parliament, left the chamber, shaking hands with other far-right lawmakers.
His Confederation party had been tipped to hold the balance of power after the Oct. 15 election after a campaign in which it focused mainly on economic issues and criticising the extent of Poland’s aid to Ukraine. However, in the end it only won 18 seats, up from 11 in 2019.
The party said in a post on social media platform X that it condemned Braun’s behaviour.
Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich told Reuters by telephone that Braun’s actions were not representative of the country and that he was “embarrassed” by them.
“Someone extinguished the Hanukkah candles and a few minutes later we relit them,” he said. “For thousands of years our enemies have been trying to extinguish us, from the time of the Maccabees right through to Hamas. But our enemies should learn, they cannot extinguish us.”
Cardinal Grzegorz Rys of Poland’s Catholic church said in a statement posted on social media platform X that he was ashamed of Braun’s actions.
“(I) apologise to the entire Jewish community in Poland,” he wrote.
(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Potter)