Isak Asiel, chief rabbi of the Jewish Community in Serbia, on conflicts inside the Federation of Jewish Communities and the unresolved attack: I am the target of pressure because I pointed out that corruption exists in the Jewish Community

Isak Asiel, the chief rabbi of the Jewish Community, on the occasion of the last week unresolved attack on him, in his interview to Danas discloses: “Pressures on me to stand aside and not interfere in certain events within the community, intimidations and suggestions given to certain people not to communicate too much with me and to monitor what I do, with whom I talk and what I say, as well as rude texts about me, have deeply disturbed the community and a large part of the membership does not think the attack was a coincidence.”

Newspaper media first unofficially informed that Asiel was hit with a bullet from a paintball gun, as a collateral victim of a rag in which a number of people were shot in the same way. However, later on rabbi declared to Danas that he suspects that a real shot gun was used, because there was not any paint left on his wound, but instead he received minor bleeding injuries.

To question if he thinks that he was actually the target Asiel says that he does not know, but that everything that happened in the Jewish Community from March until today, leads to such conclusion.

“Namely I have received indirect threats from individuals belonging to the leadership of the Jewish Community Belgrade (JCB) that I will lose my job for presenting openly my opinions both within the community as well as in public (NIN). It is interesting that some media wrote about a paintball gun but that is not true, and that night only I was hit and no one else. Was that a coincidence or yet another method of exerting pressure on me, is a question which does not occupy me at this moment, underlines Asiel.

Subsequently, he turned to possible reasons for such threats and explained that there are indications on numerous malversation inside the Jewish Community. It all started, as he states, when questions in reference to the financial dealings of the Jewish Community Belgrade, remained unanswered. At that point, as he explained, three members of the Jewish Community Belgrade Supervisory Board were “kicked out”.

Following came the letter of the JCB president Danilo Medic, who in the capacity of the Vice-president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia (FJCS), without the knowledge and agreement of the Executive Board of the Federation, approved that the two buildings of the former camp Topovske Supe could be demolished and moved to another location in order that a shopping mall could be built in their place. Furthermore, the Federation did not receive a copy of that document from Medic but from the City Bureau for the Protection of Monuments. President of the JCB, Danilo Medic, also boasted that he has the support of authorities, that is of his longtime friend Goran Vesic, at that time the Belgrade City Manager, and that the state will recognize the new Federation “within 24 hours”. On the other hand, to great dismay and astonishment of the JCB membership, Zika Andjelkovic Pauk was also employed for a period of six months as Medic’ s counselor for social matters. In addition, Haris Dajc, who is in the process of litigation with the JCB and in the same time the President of the Supervisory Board according to the Law on Alleviating the Consequences of Seizure of Property of Holocaust Victims Without Living Legal Heirs, and as such, fully unsuitable for that function, on which media already wrote, has publicly boasted with the friendship and support of Strahinja Sekulic (director of the Agency for Restitution of the Republic of Serbia, author’s comment), retells Asiel.

Simultaneously with these happenings, indicates Rabbi, started media preparations for convening fraudulent elections in the Federation of Jewish Communities. Falsehoods on the management of funds which the Federation receives on the basis of the mentioned Law, were published.

“A logical subsequence of all above was forced elections for a new Federation, contrary to valid Bylaws, as well as the new campaign in public of that virtual Federation, on which media have already reported.

The illegal Federation, immediately after “forced elections” submits a request to the Ministry of Justice to be enrolled into the Registry of Churches and Religious Communities, in which the FJC Serbia with its president Robert Sabados at the head is already enrolled as the sole authorized representative of the Jews of Serbia. The minutes from the illegal assembly submitted to the Ministry of Justice bore on itself a forged stamp of the Federation, claims Asiel. He points out that the only legally elected president of the FJCS is Robert Sabados, and the shot on him was preceded by the proclamation of the new, according to his words, illegal leadership.

“On the night when I was shot, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia was forced to relocate a part of its activities to another location due to information that it would soon be “occupied” by the illegally elected and self-proclaimed headship lead by Igor Ginzberg, who on Friday 27. July wrote a letter to all Jewish Communities: “The meeting convoked by Robert Sabados will not take place.” The meeting in question was the meeting of the legitimate Federation leaders, i.e. presidents of Jewish Communities from the whole Serbia, which was convoked for Sunday 29th July. All presidents who came to the meeting were left in front of the armored entrance door of the building in which they could not enter because the lock had been blocked from the inside. A video of this can be found on YouTube.

Taking into consideration the above quoted words of Ginzberg, we feared that such a development of events are possible, and informed the Ministry of Justice about that already on Friday, 27th July.

Asiel also turned to Ginzberg’s statements in some media in which Ginzberg commented Rabbi’s work and statements on events in the Jewish community, characterizing them as “unacceptable”.

“In regards to his statement that it is unacceptable that a Rabbi takes whichever side, it would mean that only the rabbi does not have a right to his own opinion, especially if he is aware of corruption in the community. We are not talking here about quarreling or reconciliation. We are talking about a much bigger problem in front of which one cannot remain aside. JCB president Danilo Medic came to that position under the slogan of transparency, in order to drive away, in a short time, everyone who actually held to that principle. A Rabbi is obliged to observe the biblical principle “You shall not stand aside while your brother’s blood is being shed”. The role of the Rabbi is in fact, among other things, to resolve disputes.

Difficult times for Jews in Serbia

Asiel points out that these commotions and divisions present “difficult times“ and a challenge for the Jewish Community. “I sincerely regret that all this has gone so far, that relations are permanently violated and that the life of such a sensitive community has been disturbed from its roots. The majority of the community consists of descent and modest people who do not deserve to become victims of violence of a few, whose interests by all means are not in accordance with the interests of the Jewish Community, as she is in its essence. This saddens me most as a rabbi and is of the most importance to me in the sense that I will fight until the end for those honest and modest people, that I will fight for the integrity of the traditional Jewish religious Community as it was and as it will be again”, communicates Asiel.