Was Israel’s former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger a lobbyist for Orbán?

Politics makes strange bedfellows. And this may be the case in the unexpected alliance between former Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, and Hungary’s Orbán Government.

In November 2013 Rabbi Yona Metzger was arrested in Israel on suspicion of corruption and the Magistrate’s Court ordered him to be kept in custody. According to investigators, Rabbi Metzger accepted bribes of an “unprecedented scope”; he received 2.5 million dollars over 10 years while serving as Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. Mr. Metzger has denied all accusations.

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger arrested by plainclothes Israeli officers.

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger arrested by plainclothes Israeli officers.

Another suspect in the case is Haim Nissan Eisenstat, who worked as Mr. Metzger’s driver and personal assistant. He was also accused of taking bribes, fraud and money laundering and now he is the star witness against Mr. Metzger.

The investigation has lasted for two years and Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein is ready to issue a tough indictment against Mr. Metzger. Although Rabbi Metzger’s attorneys have indicated that they are willing to accept less severe charges, the prosecutors have rejected their proposal.

As Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi maintained close relations with the Orbán Government and also a group of Hungarian Chabad emissaries. He first visited Budapest in 2003 when Chabad invited him to speak at their Yeshiva.

Rabbi Slomó Köves, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Viktor Orbán.

Rabbi Slomó Köves, Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Viktor Orbán.

In 2008 Chief Rabbi Metzger met with then-opposition leader Viktor Orbán in Budapest and discussed, among other things, strategies on how to fight anti-Semitism. After Mr. Orbán’s election as Prime Minister in 2010, Rabbi Metzger frequently met with Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Zsolt Semjén, and Budapest Mayor, Mr. István Tarlós. Mr. Metzger was also the featured speaker at the inauguration of a Chabad Synagogue in Budapest led by Rabbi Shlomo Köves. At that time Mr. Metzger met with the entire Fidesz leadership.

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Budapest Mayor István Tarlós.

Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Budapest Mayor István Tarlós.

In a 2012 letter, Chief Rabbi Metzger thanked Prime Minister Viktor Orbán for the “magnificent relationship” that he was fostering with the Jews in Hungary. He wrote that he was praying (!) that Orbán should “continue to successfully lead” the country “with dignity, understanding and wisdom.” He added, “may it be His will that the difficult economic situation affecting Europe be put behind you rapidly, and that you will enjoy the benefit of a better and more stable economic situation, that the citizens of Hungary will all be content and at peace in your country, enjoying peace and security.”

Christian Democratic People's Party leader Zsolt Semjén with Chief Rabbi Metzger.

Christian Democratic People’s Party leader Zsolt Semjén with Chief Rabbi Metzger.

As a response to allegations of anti-Semitism made against his government, Prime Minister Orbán quoted Rabbi Metzger’s praise in a memorable speech he gave at the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in Budapest, in 2013.

Details of the criminal charges against Rabbi Metzger are not public yet and there are no specific accusations that he or his associates received bribes for “favors” from Hungarian officials. However, Israeli authorities have indicated that the Rabbi’s corrupt conduct was unprecedented and far reaching.

Negotiations with Metzger. Left: Mr. Viktor Orbán, current Finance Minister Mr. Mihály Varga, ex-New York Consul General Mr. Károly Dán, Mr. György Szabó (MAZSÖK) – Right: Rabbi Oberlander, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger (in hat), Rabbi Köves and Rabbi Raskin of Budapest Chabad.

Negotiations with Metzger. Left: Mr. Viktor Orbán, current Finance Minister Mr. Mihály Varga, ex-New York Consul General Mr. Károly Dán, Mr. György Szabó (MAZSÖK) – Right: Rabbi Oberlander, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger (in hat), Rabbi Köves and Rabbi Raskin of Budapest Chabad.

Rabbi Metzger recently asked permission to travel to Europe. Prosecutors denied his request because they fear that he will try to flee prosecution. The Rabbi was also willing to post a large bail in order to receive the desired travel permit, but Israeli prosecution remained firm. Rabbi Metzger cannot leave Israel; he has to stand trial there.

More to come….

György Lázár

3 Comments

  1. DOPPELGANGSTERS

    I am a Jew; both my parents were Hungarian Holocaust survivors. Like all decent people, I find corruption odious. But although others may not agree with me, I find it far more odious when corruption is practiced by prominent public figures who represent a vulnerable community of fate that has suffered collectively from discrimination for millennia. Shame on all who are corrupt. But special shame and ignominy on the likes of Metzger, including Budapest’s Köves, if he had any complicity. When they sin, they don’t just sin for their own selfish interests; they stigmatise an entire people. In general, like attracts like. It is no surprise that Orban and his cronies are happy to forge and flaunt alliances with their Doppelgangers abroad. But it is especially sad when a Jew looks in a mirror and sees yet another Orban.

  2. Bird-killer Semjén in Metzger’s office. Cool. By the way Mr. Metzger could have get shelter and EU citizenship for the neccesary sum of money from the Fidesz-KDNP guys, who are happy to give it anyone for a nice bakshish and who are of course so much against economicly motivated immigration…

  3. András B. Göllner says:

    Extraordinary story. When Church and State, political and religious leaders collude, it’s time to look for the exit before its too late. The Orbán government has spent vast amounts of money to court favorable comments and endorsements from respected Jewish leaders here in Canada and elsewhere. The honorable ones, like Wiesel, and Braham can’t be bought off or seduced with cheap musical shows, but many others are bending like reeds in the wind. Metzger falls into the latter category. We should follow the path of the righteous, take our examples from them. Religious leaders, business leaders, community spokespersons, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim, who take it upon themselves to stand in front of an audience and praise Orbán as a democrat, and a guardian of civil liberties should be ashamed of themselves. The evidence about the Orbán regime’s rule of law violations, it’s disrespect of civil liberties, justice and constitutionalism, it’s corrupt conduct is overwhelming and is easily available to anyone with a conscience. To take the side of the fraudster is to partake in the exploitation and repression of the weak and the innocent.

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