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Hungary Chabad rabbi’s endorsement of ruling Fidesz candidate triggers storm of indignation

Last Friday, a former leftwing television personality and Democratic Coalition politician István Vágó posted to his Facebook page a Fidesz political flyer featuring a political endorsement from Slomó Köves, a prominent leader of Hungary's Jewish community.
The flyer, which introduces Christian Democratic People's Party (KDNP) politician István Hollik as "your candidate for member of parliament," attributes the following text to the leader of the Unified Hungarian Israelite Faith Community, whose photograph appears as well on the flyer.

koves hollik

In recent years Jewish cultural life and faith has been renewed in downtown Budapest. In order for this renewal to continue and for the Jewish community to live in peace and security, we need a helpful partner. In the person of István Hollik I see a guarantee that the fulfillment of faith and culture will receive every necessary help.

The unprecedented political endorsement was reported the following day in
It seems Slomó Köves, the rabbi who heads the Unified Hungarian Israelite Faith Community (EMIH) has also joined the 2018 campaign, and in a flyer distributed in the first electoral district essentially expresses his support for KDNP candidate István Hollik, according to István Vágó Facebook post on Friday . . . This is not the first occasion when a church entered the campaign. In mid January László Németh, the plebeian for Hódmezövásárhely delivered a scandalous campaign speech at the end of a mass in which he openly supported Fidesz and the Orbán campaign and called on the congregation not to vote for (independent opposition candidate) Péter Márki-Zay, writes the daily online.
The article did not escape the notice of Jewish leaders, opposition candidates, and intellectuals, many of whom criticized Köves's decision to endorse ruling coalition Fidesz-KDNP, which will stand for re-election on April 8.

Later that day the following interview appeared on containing a half-hearted apology under the title "Horthy was not a statesman: I will speak with István Hollik about this." (Hungary's wartime leader and Nazi ally Miklos Horthy, who enacted anti-Jewish laws and under whose watch over half a million Jews were deported to Auschwitz during the Holocaust - the editor).

The rabbi's support was addressed to the consensus that transcends parties which supports the Jewish community in Budapest District 5 public life. If this was interpreted as a political endorsement, then he considers it a mistake.
As a Jewish leader I am obliged to seek cooperation with every politician and democratic political party that helps matters of Jewish life and education. Locally in District 5 for the past fourteen years we have been in the fortunate position of there being cooperation between the Jewish community and local political actors based on an overarching consensus that transcends parties. One of the fruits of this was the downtown Keren Or center where many thousands of people got a chance to familiarize themselves with Jewish traditions, philosopher or even Hebrew at the Jewish Studies Free University, or even to pray in the one Jewish house of worship in District 5. I support the continuity of this cooperation. I only met István Hollik once or twice, but I know well the Socialist Pál Steiner, Tibor Pásztor or even (former Fidesz mayor-tran.) Antal Rogán and András Puskás, and the past decade and a half was marked by constructive cooperation. They also got cooperation on a local level, or may get it in the future, just like any other democratic party candidate who considers the life of downtown Jewish faith and community important and strengthens it with his efforts. That is what my support was about, but if it was interpreted as my entering the campaign, then perhaps it was a mistake for which I apologize.

Does this mean that you also support, or would support, the local opposition candidates?

Naturally, yes. Every democratic party candidate seeking to continue the cooperation of the past decade and a half is a potential partner in my eyes.

On the subject of consensus, were you aware that István Hollik considers Miklós Horthy (Regent of Hungary, 1920-1944) to be a statesman?

No specifically. I regret if he declared such. I will speak with him, as Horthy was not a statesman. A stigmatizing figure on the nation's fate who, in many cases, was weak-willed, he was an opportunist on whose soul is stained by the blood of 200,000 Don and 600,000 Auschwitz victims. As I stated in connection with Viktor Orbán's summer statement, as well as in connection with the memorial mass recently organized: In no way do I consider it acceptable for Horthy to be presented as a role model. I regret that nothing has changed regarding his legacy since his reburial in 1993 interspersed with government officials of that time.

One or two weeks ago you stated to that you do not think it fortunate for church officials to use the pulpit to support political candidates. Haven't you made the same mistake?

That statement was expressly about the sacred medium. However, there can be no doubt that we are dealing with a very delicate field, in that a church leader, who has no choice but to step out from the church in order to promote the value of his faith, along mutual values and interests, seeks out alliances in the interest of the matters he considers important. There are those who will go as far as engaging in party politics like, for example, Tamás Raj, László Donáth, or Gábov Iványi, who undertook to play a specific role in party politics at a given historical period. Today, and perhaps at that time as well, I would have considered that as stepping over the border. At the same time, on a local level, if an unprecedented solidarity between MSZP (Hungarian Socialist Party) and Fidesz evolved in the environment supportive of Jewish faith and culture, then I believe I cannot do anything else but recognize it.

Köves' tepid apology merely added fuel to the fire of Jewish and left-wing indignation. On Tuesday, February 6 conservative print daily Magyar Nemzet published the following open letter addressed to Köves penned by Zoltán Radnóti, the chairman of the Hungarian Jewish Faith Community Alliance's (Mazsihisz) council of rabbis:

Dear Slomó Köves, dear colleagues, friends:

I returned from an Israeli Yeshiva at the age of 21 and enrolled in the Mazsihisz neolog (a reformist, integrationist branch of Hungarian judaism dating back to the 19th century-tran.) when I studied for seven years, becoming a rabbi in 1999. You arrived in 2002 at the age of 23 and were ordained an orthodox rabbi the following year. We might have mutual goals, dreams. Do you remember the boy who returned home from his Israeli and American studies with the goal of putting an end to the political dependency of Hungarian Jewry? And today? Do you see what participants the two of us are in the internally said history of Hungarian Jewry?

Your arrival brought something truly new. The promise of a community system change. You said you would build a self-sustaining community, and that you would not continually use antisemitism as a means like so many others. You would not play the "antisemite card" anymore. And that you would not lurk around political power but rather serve the faithful because fortunately you are not instructed by the State Church Authority but in reality by God.

This boy went to the student island, still poor at the time, to teach, one thought it strange that someone would go into parliament two or three times a week to be photographed with various important people, and to share them with the world as a way of showing his power and the wealth of his contacts. On your Wikipedia page you wrote about yourself: "As the first Jewish community faith leader independent of Mazsihisz, he is a strict critic of the leadership of Mazsihisz and the obsolete Jewish political framework. He is a promotor of the need for renewal. An important element of his criticism of Mazsihisz is the believe that Jewish public life cannot be beholden to so much as a single political entity."

Sometimes we worked together. I had a "follower," who left our mutually organized Óbuda program to attend the birth of his first male son. Of course we had to compete with you, argue, learn from one another. We disagreed over many things, and often did not speak nicely about each other, which I regret. And yet all of this was good, even if at times it was uncomfortable.

However, in recent years I have observed your actions without understanding. And in recent days my incomprehensible has turned to deep sadness. Perhaps you won't believe this, but I fear for you.

In recent years it appears you attend parties that last until dawn not for the sake of followers but rather in the interest of state money. You are not building a community so much as an institution. Listening to your speeches, it is difficult not to think of you as doing a favor for terrestrial powers. As though your teachings are driven by these considerations rather than the Torah. You do it intelligently, of course. You are a truly clever boy. And yet one finds this thought disturbing.

All of this was too familiar to me. It was as though the long deceased State Church Authority opened the gates in your soul. It was as though it vanquished you, and the past was in jeopardy. Even as Mazsihisz, to which you were an influential and stimulating challenger, slowly liberated itself from the past, no longer serving as a team helper to the strong left-liberal party alliance of old and mainly to the Hungarian Socialist Party, the actors swapped roles without noticing.

My friend, you have learned everything bad from the Mazsihisz of old and have even exceeded it. Not even the "old Mazsihisz" openly joined the political fray on behalf of a party as you have just done. It might seem to many that you have given up the 4,000 years for four.

You know perfectly well that as "God's servant" the respect you command is solely for the purpose of spreading the knowledge of God and piousness among the Jewish masses. You know that a rabbi cannot be among those who battle for momentary power. You know that who uses his respect as a rabbi to serve "Earthly" power interests and who has been bought by material, Earthly powers, betrays the Torah and the prophets.

A leading rabbi — it's even terrible to write — capable of lending his name to an electoral flyer (along with the name of his community), support (and that of his community), in my opinion, denies the Torah whose first teaching is that all power is God's and that every Earthly power can only be his servant. It's that simple, as you well know. Then why? What can be more important to you than the Torah? What you write on the flyer, the saddest document of Hungarian Jewry for the past 30 years, is that faith and cultural life has been renewed in an electoral district, and that Istvan Hollik is needed for this to continue. Later after the scandal erupted, you issued a conspicuous announcement in which you apologize: you are grateful for this to the local MSZP as well.

Dear Slomó! Do you really believe that it is primarily the stewards of public money, Fidesz and/or MSZP, that can build Jewish faith and cultural life in the downtown or anywhere else in the country? Do you think the activities of István Hollik or Pál Steiner will take the eternal calling to heart? Or perhaps the state giga-loans or properties provided free of charge? This week we even read the ten commandments in Synagogue, including the commandment "Thou shall not take the Lord God's name in vain!" For a rabbi to campaign in the name of God and the community is to breach this commandment.

You mention the calm and security of Jewish life whose preservation, you believe, requires political continuity. The same thing was said for many decades back then under Kádárism by the wisemen of the community, although with time not so frankly openly. And at the end of your writing (its climax), that you see in István Hollik, (the name is not important, the problem is not with him or his competitors) a guarantee of the faith's fulfillment. Are you so distrustful of yourself? Are you so distrustful of the Hungarian Jewish society? Are you so distrustful of God? So that in their place you place your trust in parties and the state? Where did things go so astray in under only a few years, dear friend?

With regard to your apology: it would have been nice and appropriate, but there is only a point to asking forgiveness honestly. You said that if it happened to qualify as campaigning that you trust in the support of a politician on a flyer, then you apologize. Dear Slomó, you are a young man, but you have already outgrown such talk. Anyway, what did you think what you do qualified as? I do not want to give you homework, but take us and yourself more seriously. You are more than that.

Dear Slomó! It is entirely impossible that the boy you were 10-15 years ago is completely lost and nowhere to be found. That young man is needed by us and Hungarian Jews. Dear friend, don't do this any more. Know that it is only out of disappointment that I criticize you, and you are getting enough now, so as the elder party I offer the following closing words: you are traveling on the wrong road and you have gone very far—but we await you back.

With worried affection: Zoltán Radnóti, rabbi

Együtt politician Péter Juhász, who is running for parliament against Hollik in District 5, is the latest to enter the fray. In a video blog posted Tuesday afternoon Juhász informed his followers that he had written a letter to Köves requesting a meeting.

In the event we succeed on entering parliament in the 2018 elections the first thing we'll do is immediately remove from Budapest's Freedom (Szabadság) square the so-called Memorial to the Victims of the German Invasion, whose falsification of history has so insulted Hungary's Jewish community and every right-minded individual, and which no member of the current government has dared to formerly dedicate. I don't think there is a single Hungarian of Jewish descent in Hungary or a single right-thinking person who isn't bothered by this memorial, which the government erected . . . installed in secret at night, behind cordons, accompanied by police, without a permit from the local building authorities, raping our history and denying our past. I am convinced it should be removed and that Slomó Köves will have something to say about that. My question for him is whether he would retain the memorial or not. If yes, then I won't ask him to appear on our flyer. If no, then I will ask him to appear together with me on my flyer demanding that the cheap thing be removed.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 March 2018 14:11

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