Guatemala Mayor Charged in Expulsion of Fundamentalist Hasidic Sect
RIO DE JANEIRO — A court in Guatemala indicted the ex-mayor of a small town in the Central American nation for “participating in the expulsion of a religious community.”
Antonio Adolfo Perez y Perez of San Juan La Laguna was charged with abuse of authority and discrimination and sentenced to house arrest, the local newspaper Prensa Libre reported. He had lost his political immunity on Jan. 14 after he was not re-elected.
In 2014, some 230 members of the controversial haredi Orthodox sect Lev Tahor were forced out of the village following religiously tainted disputes with its Mayan residents, who are Roman Catholic. The local elders’ council voted against the Jewish group, which practices an austere form of Judaism. For example, members of the sect refused to greet or have physical contact with anyone outside their community.
“We felt intimidated by them in the streets. We thought they wanted to change our religion and customs,” a member of the elders’ council, Miguel Vasquez Cholotio, told Agence France Presse. “We need to conserve and preserve our culture.”
Rabbi Shalom Pelman, a leader of Guatemala’s small Chabad community, condemned the expulsion.
“This is not typical in the world I live in. Even in Iran, Jews are not expelled,” he told the media.
Lev Tahor had maintained a small presence in San Juan La Laguna, a village about 90 miles west of Guatemala City, for about six years, but it expanded considerably after a contingent arrived complaining of persecution by Canadian authorities. Tensions appear to have flared after the newcomers sought to impose its practices on the indigenous people.
Lev Tahor shuns technology and its female members wear black robes from head to toe, leaving only their faces exposed. The group was founded by an Israeli, Shlomo Helbrans, in the 1980s and rejects the State of Israel, saying the Jewish Promised Land can only be established by God, not men.
Guatemala is home to some 1,200 Jews in a population of 15 million.