A Ukrainian mayor accused of anti-Semitism on Wednesday denied reports that he had tried to bestow a medal on a leading Russian rabbi, who said he had spurned the honor.
"The only thing we can give a rabbi is a one-way ticket," the Kommersant daily quoted Sergey Ratushnyak, mayor of the Ukrainian city of Uzhgorod (formerly Ungvar), as saying.
The mayor's statement came after a report by Haaretz, which was based on the accounts of people who attended a commemoration ceremony held at the city on Sunday in honor of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The witnesses said that Ratushnyak's representative approached Russia's Chief Rabbi, Berel Lazar, with the intention of presenting him with a medal of honor. Some described Lazar's spurning of the honor as "abject."
"It's absolute absurdity. We gave the Rabbi no medals," the mayor reportedly told the local paper.
The Rabbinical Centre of Europe told Haaretz that Lazar refused to accept a medal given by the mayor, and that Lazar told the messenger the medal should remain in the city until the mayor apologizes for his anti-Semitic remarks.
Mayor Ratushnyak called an opponent "an impudent little Jew" in a recent election campaign. The Associated Press news agency quoted him as saying "I don't like Jews" in an interview. According to the Rabbinical Centre of Europe, the mayor was purposely not invited to the event, held near a mass grave of over 200 Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Commenting on Ratushnyak's denial, the chief rabbi's press secretary, Andrey Glotser, told the Russian news agency Interfax that it was "very difficult to prove that someone from the mayor office approached Lazar."
He added: "No doubt, Ratushnyak may deny it. If Lazar agreed, the mayor would have told everyone about it, but as the rabbi refused, it's easier to say that nothing has ever happened just to save face."
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