Reformist candidate chosen to head Hungarian Jewry

State Department calls on Hungarian PM to ‘do more’ against anti-Semitism.

July 2, 2013 01:47
2 minute read.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. (photo credit: Reuters)

Newly elected head of Hungary’s Jewish community, Andras Heisler, pledged to fight corruption following his victory last week.

Heisler was elected as the President of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), succeeding president Peter Feldmajer, who resigned his position in May after losing a no confidence vote.

Mazsihisz officially represents the interests of Hungarian Jewry to the government and is responsible for the annual distribution of millions of dollars of government grants and Holocaust compensation funds to Jewish organizations.

Heisler garnered 59 out of 107 votes cast in the first round of balloting. According to Hungarian news website, Feldmajer entered into the race despite the repudiation of his leadership, but then dropped out of the race immediately prior to the vote.

This is Heisler’s second term leading the communal organization, representing Hungary’s more than 100,000 Jews, having served as president from 2003-2005.

Heisler was reported as having critiqued the Mazsihisz over allegations that the election of Jewish community officials had been manipulated to prevent changes in the top leadership – and specifically to prevent Heisler from becoming a delegate to the general assembly, the body that elects the top officials.

Heisler had resigned as Mazsihisz president in 2005 following his attempts to overhaul the organization were thwarted and his calls for Zoltai’s resignation were rebuffed. But in December he was elected to the Mazsihisz board, allowing him to regain his position in last week’s vote.

In a statement on the Mazsihisz website following his election, Heisler said that he would fight corruption and that he would work to create “well functioning institutions.”

The day after Heisler’s election, US State Department anti- Semitism envoy Ira Forman wrote in a letter to Jewish groups that Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban must do more to combat hate.

“[Orban] strongly denounced anti-Semitism in his address to the World Jewish Congress in Budapest last month,” said the June 25 letter, sent to a number of US Jewish groups that had written Secretary of State John Kerry in mid-May about the phenomenon.

“While we were encouraged by his statements, we believe the government must do more to condemn publicly the incendiary rhetoric of the opposition Jobbik Party,” Forman said in the letter. He added that State Department officials “regularly” raised the matter of anti-Semitism with their Hungarian counterparts, and that “we will continue pressing for action.”

The May 14 letter from the Jewish groups had asked Kerry to raise this issue personally in any dealings he has with Hungarian officials. It noted instances in which Jobbik figures had called for the creation of a list of Jewish public officials and labeled Jews a national security risk.

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