Poland's antisemites have turned hallucinatory. Long after the murder of most Polish Jews in the Holocaust, tales are being spread of a "Jewish Mafia." It runs the country, controls the economy and accounts -- or so it is said -- for the high price of things. The Jews this time are more than just evil and cunning. By the several millions, they are dead.

Lech Walesa, running for president, handles this antisemitism with his usual charm. He winks. He shrugs. He does everything but confront the antisemites -- a timidity he did not show at the Gdansk shipyards. He describes himself as a "full-blooded Pole, born here" -- a phrase redolent with Polish nationalism, particularly of the virulent, intolerant and antisemitic kind practiced in the 1930s.

But Walesa is doing more than merely summoning history. His opponent for the presidency is Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Introverted and somewhat bookish, Mazowiecki is no hale and hearty campaigner. Moreover, he is dogged by a rumor that he is a Jew who changed his name to avoid recognition. The prime minister is, in fact, a pious Catholic, but what are facts when contrasted with prejudice? In the minds of numerous people -- many of them rural, most of them poor and too many of them (but by no means all) infected with Poland's peculiar cultural virus -- Mazowiecki may be something other than "a full-blooded Pole."

Polish Jews once numbered about 3.5 million. Now, within a Polish population of about 38 million, some 10,000 are Jews. The Jewish community is aged and poor; the funeral -- not a wedding, not a birth -- is the common religious occasion. In 1968, most Jews who had survived the war fled the country during the Communist government's antisemitic campaign. Polish Jews, allegedly so mighty and controlling, couldn't fill the bleachers at a ballpark. The power of antisemitism must be its sheer inanity.

Lech Walesa is not an antisemite. He says so himself, often and with conviction, and not even his political opponents disagree. But until recently Walesa found it difficult to instruct his fellow Poles in the odiousness and folly of antisemitism. Instead, he seems content to leave impressions -- and one of them, almost certainly, is that he does not find antisemitism to be all that objectionable. Whatever the reason, antisemites flock to Walesa's rallies. His is a political posture: When it comes to antisemitism, he is neither friend nor foe.

For instance, at a recent rally, a voter said to Walesa, "I am not an antisemite, but I think it is high time we were ruled by Poles." The Solidarity chairman hardly sounded offended. "Those suspicions, whether true or not, stem from the fact that the systems are not clear," he said, being a bit less than clear himself. "We don't know who actually rules here, how they found themselves there, if it is a mafia or something. That's why we suspect." How's that for a gutsy attack on antisemitism?

With the polls showing him with a comfortable lead, Walesa -- just recently and for the first time -- used a campaign appearance to denounce antisemitism. He called it stupid, which among other things, it certainly is. But winning makes statesmen of us all. When the election was tighter, Walesa took no such stand. In the manner in which he has conducted his campaign, Walesa has done little to counter the impression that he is a political opportunist.

Already some of his former colleagues have reached that conclusion. One of them, Adam Michnik, an intellectual and newspaper editor, took Walesa to task for expropriating the Solidarity logo for campaign purposes. A seemingly minor matter, it nevertheless provoked Michnik to write the following in the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza: "It worries me that Walesa will use any means to get into the Belvedere {presidential} Palace."

The use, legitimate or not, of the Solidarity logo hardly concerns me. Antisemitism, however, does. It remains a way of taking a country's moral temperature, of gauging its character and its ability to deal rationally with its problems instead of setting off down the road, club in hand, in the search for scapegoats. Walesa -- certified hero, Nobel peace laureate -- has both the standing and the moral obligation to confront this problem, to say in no uncertain terms that antisemitism will not be tolerated. Sheer numbers say it all. Blaming Polish Jews has always been easy. Finding them now is a lot harder.