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More recently, the Czech Republic was among only a handful of countries in the world to vote against upgrading the Palestinians’ status at the United Nations.
Fischer thus finds it unnecessary to bluster in the same way as his chief presidential rival, Milos Zeman, who has declared his support for a preemptive strike against Iran.
“I have no need to demonstrate my friendly attitude towards Israel because everyone is familiar with it, so I don’t need to say something very strong,” he told JTA in a wide-ranging interview, adding that he is well aware that “Iran is the dark force in the region.”
Fischer’s professions of devotion to Israel weren’t always so robust. Before the Communist regime collapsed in 1989, it was dangerous for anyone – especially a government employee – to sympathize with Israel because the authorities toed the Soviet anti-Zionist line.
His upbringing is a case study of post-World War II Jewish life in Central Europe. His father survived Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps, and his mother was Catholic. He celebrated Czech Christmas and attended synagogue.
“My father brought me to the synagogue for Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah and Purim,” Fischer recalled. “During Pesach we didn’t organize a seder, but we did have matzah. Father was a member of the Jewish community until the end of the 1950s.”
That changed once Czechoslovak Communist leaders became more virulently anti-religious; Judaism was no longer high on his family’s list of priorities.
It changed again – as it did for many of Fischer’s generation – when his son began to discover his Jewish roots. Also named Jan, Fischer’s son was born in 1989, the same year the Velvet Revolution swept communism from the country.
“He was very interested in the story of the Holocaust and he liked to talk about my father despite [the fact] that he died in 1975,” Fischer said. “Through his discoveries he developed a strong bond with Judaism, and he brought me back.”