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

(page 3 of 3)

Fischer credited the Lauder Jewish School, which his son attended, for educating the whole family.

Fischer’s father, also a Prague statistician, was forced to collect numerical data on Jewish families for the Nazis.

“When he arrived in Auschwitz he didn’t expect to live, but Mengele found out he was a mathematician and thought he could be of use,” Fischer said.

Although some may not deem Fischer as Jewish by halachah, or Jewish law, he invokes the Holocaust experience as a defining characteristic of those who view themselves as Jews.

“It is a common tragedy,” he said, “and based on it I feel part of this community.”

Even in the relatively liberal-minded Czech Republic, however, being Jewish can be a political disadvantage. When Fischer took over as prime minister, a smattering of comments on blogs referred negatively to his Jewish origins. There were hints, too, that Fischer was part of a secret brotherhood, as one of his advisers also was Jewish.

But Czechs mostly were just curious about their new leader’s religious background. His ethnicity again became a focus of public fixation when when his predecessor, thinking he was off the record during a taped magazine interview, slurred a gay minister and Fischer, linking a penchant for compromise to his Jewishness.

During his tenure as prime minister, Fischer was admired for aggressively pursuing extremist groups that were terrorizing the country’s largest minority, the Roma. As a result of these activities, and partly on account of his religion, Fischer’s son was put under police protection.

Still, asked about anti-Semitism in the Czech Republic, he responds, “This country has so many political problems, but anti-Semitism is not one of them.”

Although Fischer’s influence as president would be limited in a parliamentary democracy and his powers largely ceremonial, the head of state does occasionally remark on foreign policy issues. And that is where Israel comes up again in conversation.

Fischer is bluntly critical of the European Union’s sometimes muddy statements with regard to Israel. Asked if he agreed with the EU’s repeated condemnation of Israeli settlements, he said, “The voice of the European Union is sometimes strong [on this topic]. It is not the opinion of every country. The reality is that the EU hasn’t got any foreign policy. I don’t think the settlements are the greatest issue in the region. Iran is the greatest issue.”

If there is a shadow hanging over Fischer in the eyes of Czech voters, it is not his religion but his former membership in the Communist Party. Fischer says he joined under pressure to keep his job as a public employee and has publicly apologized for the decision.

“I gave in and it is nothing I am proud of,” he said.

Compared to his two larger-than-life predecessors – human rights luminary Vaclav Havel and Euroskeptic Vaclav Klaus – Fischer is distinguished largely by the fact that he is so reserved. Critics have noted his lack of charisma.

Jiri Pehe, a former adviser to Havel and now a well-known political commentator, doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing. Fischer, he says, appeals to the average citizen.

“Czechs are fed up with a presidency where a president has to be highly visible and interfere with party politics, and make speeches on issues like global warming,” Pehe said. “Maybe they want someone ordinary, someone to act as the chief notary, putting a seal on international documents.”

Rabbi Manes Barash, who runs a Chabad synagogue in Prague where Fischer occasionally prays, takes the charisma issue a step further.

“A lot of people who are crooks have charisma,” Barash joked. “Maybe it’s a good thing he doesn’t have charisma.”

On a more serious note, Barash says Fischer might be good for the country, which is among the most atheistic in the world, according to surveys.

“That he is a believer is something very special for the Czech Republic,” Barash said. “Such a secular society, it is missing here.”


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!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • 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.