KIEV, Ukraine (JTA) — A Ukrainian mayor says reports that he wanted to honor Russia’s chief rabbi are false.
Uzhgorod Mayor Sergey Ratushnyak, under fire for anti-Semitic remarks aimed at a Ukrainian presidential candidate, on Wednesday denied reports that he had intended to bestow a city honor on Rabbi Berel Lazar during his visit Monday to the western Ukraine city.
“It’s total nonsense," the mayor told a local newspaper. "We gave the rabbi no medals or honors.
"The only thing we can give a rabbi is a one-way ticket,” the ua-reporter.com quoted Ratushnyak as saying.
Media reports, based on the accounts of witnesses who attended Monday’s ceremony unveiling a new Holocaust memorial, had said that Ratushnyak’s representative announced the mayor planned to present Lazar with the city’s Medal of Honor.
The mayor reportedly was not invited to the unveiling, which was held near a mass grave of more than 200 Jews murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Lazar said he attended the dedication of the new memorial to express his solidarity with the Jewish community of Uzhgorod following several xenophobic and anti-Semitic statements made by Ratushnyak in August.
Prosecutors have charged Ratushnyak with inciting ethnic hatred for allegedly assailing a volunteer for presidential candidate Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and attacking his Jewish background, calling him "an impudent little Jew.”
Andrey Gloster, press secretary for the chief rabbi of Russia, told the Interfax news agency that it was “very difficult to prove that someone from the mayor’s office approached Rabbi Lazar.”