MONTREAL — Opponents of a controversial Dec. 9 visit to Montreal by notorious Hungarian former neo-fascist leader Csanad Szegedi sponsored by Chabad of Westmount have been unable to sway organizers to rescind the invitation.
Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust survivor Paul Herczeg and fellow countryman Peter Sipos spent 90 minutes meeting recently with Westmount Chabad leader Rabbi Yossi Shanowitz to no avail, they told The CJN.
The meeting was originally slated to last 30 minutes.
Szegedi, 31, was a leading figure in Hungary’s neo-fascist Jobbik party for a decade and was known for his particularly rabid anti-Semitism.
That is, until his Jewish identity – he has a maternal Jewish grandmother – became known, and Szegedi made contact with Chabad representatives in Hungary and Jobbik ousted him from the party.
Opponents of Szegedi charge that his denunciation of Jobbik is insincere and that he only started to embrace his Jewish identity after he tried to suppress the news through bribery and failed, while Chabad believes that Szegedi has gone the extra mile to prove himself, including undergoing ritual circumcision and following Jewish practices.
“Sure it’s painful,” agreed Sipos about Szegedi getting circumcised, “but… it does not convince me. He is a turncoat opportunist.”
According to Sipos, one of the reasons for Westmount Chabad’s faith in Szegedi is the support he has been receiving from Hungarian Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, director of Chabad in Budapest. Rabbi Oberlander has been at the forefront in helping Szegedi “re-connect” with his Judaism.
“To me, this is madness,” said Sipos, a prominent theatrical composer who said he has spent “hours and hours” over the last weeks in constant email contact with fellow Hungarian Jews.
“I have even sent everything I have about [Szegedi] to [D’Arcy-McGee MNA] Lawrence Bergman,” Sipos’ provincial representative.
Sipos said that Szegedi would be far more credible if he publicly condemned his “former” fascism in the European Parliament, where he still sits as a member.
“If he got up and had the guts to do that, then I would believe him,” Sipos said.
Rabbi Shanowitz rejected the notion that Sipos and Herczeg had demanded that he revoke Szegedi's invitation or cancel the event.
“It was a very gracious meeting,” Rabbi Shanowitz said. “My postion was that Szegedi has a compelling story to tell, an educational story.”
Rabbi Shanowitz said he invited Sipos and Herczeg to contact Rabbi Oberlander in Hungary to express their concerns, but was told that they “trusted my judgement.”
Herczeg, who initially made the call to meet with Rabbi Shanowitz, said the rabbi was “quite concerned” about local opposition to Szegedi’s visit, but did not intend to cancel the event. The rabbi also noted to him and Sipos that Szegedi has been subjected to threats and intimidation in Hungary since his Jewish identity came to light.
Once unsure whether he would be attending the Dec. 9 event, Sipos has decided not to (Herczeg will be out of Canada).
But two Hungarian Jews who are attending, Herczeg said, are prominent writer Akos Kertesz and former broadcaster Joseph Orosz, both of whom came to Montreal from Hungary to escape the rising nationalistic and anti-Semitic tide, including personal attacks against them.
“They said they will be there,” Herczeg said.