Czech Jew a Frontrunner To Become Next President

Jan Fischer, Dubbed 'Czech Joe Lieberman,' Leads Polls

Trailblazer: Jan Fischer is a frontrunner to make it to the run-off of the Czech presidential race.
getty images
Trailblazer: Jan Fischer is a frontrunner to make it to the run-off of the Czech presidential race.

By JTA

Published January 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

If the pundits are correct, the Czech Republic may become the first country other than Israel to elect a Jewish president.

Jan Fischer, 62, an understated former prime minister who led a caretaker government following a coalition collapse in 2009, is neck and neck in the polls with another former government head as the nation holds its first round of presidential elections on Friday and Saturday.

The two front-runners advance to a runoff, and political prognosticators are predicting that Fischer will reach the second round.

“He’s like our Joe Lieberman,” said Tomas Kraus, chairman of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, referring to the failed U.S. vice presidential candidate. “Whether or not you support him, you can’t help but be proud he has come this far.”

Technically speaking, Europe has had a Jewish president: Ruth Dreifuss, who was president of the Swiss Confederation in 1999. But the Swiss presidency is a one-year rotating post, not a popularly elected position, and the president doesn’t really have broader powers than the other members of the Swiss Federal Council.

Europe has had other Jewish heads of government, aside from Fischer: Leon Blum, who was prime minister of France in the 1930s and ’40s, and Austria’s Bruno Kreisky, who served as prime minister from 1970 to 1983. Britain’s Benjamin Disraeli came from Jewish stock, but his family converted out of the faith before he was born.

Fischer, whose career highlights include running the Czech Statistical Office and serving as vice president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, slipped from first to second in the polls following a lackluster performance last week in a televised debate.

His ascent from skilled technocrat to high-echelon politics – and possibly to Prague Castle – sheds light on the region’s nuanced relationship with Judaism and Israel. 


Running on a platform promoting economic growth and political transparency, Fischer also is known for his pride in what he calls the Czech Republic’s “very friendly relations with Israel.” He noted that the Czech Republic was consistently one of Europe’s most ardent supporters of Israel in times of crisis, a tradition dating back to the 1920s when the first Czechoslovak president, Tomas Garyk Masaryk, endorsed the creation of the Jewish state.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.