Man who burned effigy of Jew to sue over 'antisemite' label

The effigy, publicly burned in 2015, had a black hat, beard, side curls and black clothing


Can you call a man convicted of burning an effigy of a Jew an antisemite?

That's the question that may be put to a court in Poland after Piotr Rybak, who was sententenced to prison for burning an effigy of a haredi Orthodox Jew in Wroclaw in 2015, said he is considering suing Jewish leaders who he says publicly labelled him "a fascist, antisemite and stinking nationalist".

Rybak was originally sentenced to ten months for his role in demonstrations that broke out in Wroclaw in November 2015, shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris. 

Though the demonstrations were supposedly to protest Muslim refugees' arrival in Poland, they ended with the burning of a figure wearing a black hat, beard, side curls and black clothing; clearly intended to be an Orthodox Jew.

Rybak told the court at his original trial that the effigy was meant to represent American billionaire George Soros, but that he "did not know how Soros looks". The judge rejected the defence and convicted Rybak of "public incitement to hatred on the grounds of religion and nationality to an unspecified group of Jews by burning an effigy”. 

The prosecutor in the case said, "For everyone living in Poland after the Second World War it is a clear statement of the terms ‘burning’ and ‘a Jew.’ This gesture should be read as a threat of annihilation, eg. by burning.” 

In issuing the original sentence, which was reduced to three months after a subsequent appeal, the judge said: "It was a shameful act because he showed Poland in the eyes of the world as a country of xenophobes."

However following another appeal hearing this week over whether Rybak can serve his sentence under house arrest, he said he is preparing a lawsuit against Aleksander Gleichgewicht and Rafał Dutkiewicz, chairman and president of the Wroclaw Jewish community, the JTA reports.

“With my lawyers we are already considering how to sue Dutkiewicz and Gleichgewicht, who called me a fascist, anti-Semite and stinking nationalist,” Rybak said.

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