Serbian Jewish leader claims that right-wing ‘hooligans’ raided a synagogue. Local Jews disagree.

Cnaan Liphshiz

(JTA) – There’s a heated fight going on in Serbia over who should lead the Jewish Community of Belgrade, the country’s capital city — and it’s getting physical.

Sasha Jinker was elected in March to replace Danilo Medic, but Medic won’t give up his title as community president. Medic’s critics say he is in violation of the community’s charter, and allege that the Serbian government is supporting him. The Jewish Community of Belgrade owns millions of dollars of assets.

On Saturday, Medic claimed that 20 masked “hooligans” who seemed to belong to the far right raided the city’s main synagogue on Friday night. They “made the impression of belonging to football-hooligan groups and right-wing organizations” and caused “serious damage” to property, Medic wrote in a letter to the World Jewish Congress.

The letter also said that Rabbi Isak Asiel, who has been the local rabbi for more than 20 years, “can no longer be our rabbi” because he had “let the abusers into the synagogue area by remotely opening the car entrance doors leading o the yard. In this way, he deliberately breached the security protocol.”

Jinker, who was at the synagogue on Friday night, disputed Medic’s account. He claimed that several men belonging to the community and possibly their friends on Friday confronted three security guards at the synagogue hired by Medic, after learning that Medic had fired Asiel, the rabbi, and changed the locks on the community center around the synagogue. They also removed a metal grill that had prevented access to some parts of the building.

There was no break in, Jinker said. Some of the men were in the building for Friday night service, he added.

Acecss to the building is the subject of an ongoing legal dispute between supporters of Medic and Jinker.

Last summer, protesters from the Jewish community rallied outside the Justice Ministry, accusing the government of stoking the conflict.

The demonstrators demanded that the government recognize and register Jinker as community president.

Jinker accused Medic of withholding access to Belgrade Jews to financial information about the community, which owns multiple assets. Medic has denied this, saying he runs the community with complete transparency.

In 2016, Serbia passed a law ensuring compensation for descendants of Serbian Jews who lost property in the Holocaust. The law guarantees funding of more than $1 million per year until 2041 for communal causes, much of it to the Jewish Community of Belgrade, where most of Serbia’s 2,800 Jews live.

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