Budapest Jews Boot Ex-leader Over Far-right Government Post

'I’m not a traitor,' says Gusztav Zoltai, who shocked many in his community by accepting the post of a government consultant on Jewish matters.

AFP

A former leader of Hungarian Jewry was booted off the board of his Jewish community in Budapest following his nomination as a government consultant on Jewish matters.

Nine out of 10 members of the board of the Jewish community of the Dohany Synagogue voted last week in favor of ejecting Gusztav Zoltai, former director of the Mazsihisz Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary. The tenth member abstained.

Zoltai, who resigned as Mazsihisz director earlier this year after decades on the job, last week shocked many Hungarian Jews by accepting an offer to work as senior consultant for Janos Lazar, a minister who runs the office of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

The center-right head of state has come under intense criticism from Mazsihisz and other Jewish groups over Holocaust commemoration issues.

“I read the news with dismay and disbelief,” Mazsihisz President Andras Heisler told nol.hu in an interview, adding the nomination “ruined the record of a life’s work” for Zoltai.

Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti, who works for Mazsihisz, told JTA: “This outrageous move has cost Mr. Zoltai any shred of respect he used to have within the Jewish community.”

Reached by JTA, Zoltai declined to comment but in an interview which Nol.hu published Friday, he is quoted as acknowledging that some regard his nomination was as betrayal.

“I’m not a traitor,” Zoltai said. “Those who think I am working against Hungarian Jewry are crazy, these are insane thoughts.” He also said that in the months following his resignation, “No one called on my experience for help” in talks with the government. Upon receiving Lazar’s offer, “I immediately said yes because I wanted to help the Jewish community,” he said.

Relations between Mazsihisz and Orban’s government hit an all-time low this year over the latter’s erection of a controversial monument in Budapest for victims of Nazi occupation.

Mazsihisz, which complained that the monument served to whitewash the Hungarian state’s Holocaust-era complicity, pulled out of talks on the issue with the government over its refusal to consider an alternative to the statue depicting an angel that is being attacked by an eagle.

The government and Mazsihisz had their first roundtable meeting since the falling out last week, with Zoltai sitting squarely in the middle between government officials and Jewish community representatives.

The reason given for Zoltai’s resignation as Mazsihisz director in April was that it was done to protest to the government’s actions, though many believed he was pushed out by the organization’s reform-oriented president, Heisler, over financial irregularities.