Prague porn scandal spurs leadership crisis

PRAGUE, Nov. 19 (JTA) — A crisis involving pornography that has engulfed Prague’s only Jewish school has thrown the leadership of the city’s Jewish community into disarray. Community representatives voted 13-11 on Tuesday to remove the principal of the Lauder Jewish community school from her post following a fight over the discovery of pornography hidden on the school’s Internet server. The principal, Vera Dvorakova, is bring dismissed for firing a senior teacher in connection with the discovery, despite a lack of concrete evidence of his involvement. The meeting also voted to hold early elections next year for a new Jewish parliament, the body that elects officials in the community. Insiders say the unexpected move was a direct attack on the leadership of Tomas Jelinek, who won the chairmanship in 2001 on a pledge to bring the 1,500-strong community into the modern age. The decision to hold early elections comes after months of strife at the community-run Lauder school, which houses both a high school and an elementary school. Teachers and students have staged repeated protests over the appointment of Dvorakova, a former head of the Jewish community’s secretarial department. Community insiders say the scandal at the school unleashed feelings of discontent with the community’s leadership. “This is very unfortunate, but it has developed into two groups: those who are more or less for Mr. Jelinek and those who are more or less against him,” one senior community figure said. “I am very worried that this could even lead to the collapse of the community.” Jelinek, who can apply for re-election once parliamentary elections are held in February — two months earlier than scheduled — said he was ready to fight to remain in his post. “When I became chairman, my vision was to build an open and transparent Jewish community and to improve inefficient management of the community’s resources,” he said in an interview with JTA. “There are those who do not share my vision.” Jelinek said he recently had come under personal attack from unidentified critics. “I found a poster in the toilets at the Jewish community comparing me to a dictator. This is very personal. I simply want to build a democratic institution,” Jelinek said. It’s not clear how much longer he’ll have the chance. “Tomas Jelinek has made some enemies during his time as chairman, and they want to see a change at the top,” observed one community member, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Tomas Kraus, executive director of the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities, played down the significance of the early parliamentary election. “Whether the election is in February or April is not a big issue for us,” he said. Kraus expressed anger, however, at the way teachers and students at the Lauder school had behaved in recent months by going on strike. More than 20 teachers on the school’s staff of 28 went on strike earlier this month to protest the firing of a senior teacher for the pornography find. The material was found some weeks ago by the school’s new Web site administrator. The striking teachers claimed that their colleague had nothing to do with the material and that a Web site administrator previously connected to the school had claimed responsibility for the pornography. Police are investigating the find, which involves sexually explicit images downloaded as far back as December. “Whatever their reasons may have been, those teachers and parents behind the protests really damaged the name of the community. Their actions were absolutely irresponsible,” Kraus said. Leo Pavlat, the adviser in the Czech Republic to the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, which funds the school, said he hoped the school would return to normal as soon as possible. “The main mission of the foundation is to concentrate on lessons and education in accordance with the Jewish spirit,” Pavlat said. “The crisis at the school is very sad, but on the other hand it should be said that there have been great achievements at the school.” Pavlat pointed out that the school building is newly refurbished and the student body has grown to 200. Katerina Dejmalova, who served as spokeswoman for the striking teachers, has been appointed interim principal until the end of the school year. Dejmalova said she wanted to return the focus to Jewish education. “I plan to use all my strength to calm the situation at the school and offer teachers and parents a solution to the problems,” Dejmalova said.

NEXT STORY