A speaking engagement by former anti-Semitic Hungarian politician Csanad Szegedi, scheduled to be held in Montreal tonight, was cancelled after Szegedi was forced to leave Canada.
Szegedi is former leader of the Hungarian nationalist Jobbik party – known for its extreme far-right and anti-Semitic views – until he converted to Judaism after discovering his Jewish heritage.
The Chabad of Wesmount Educational Centre in Montreal had invited Szegedi to tell his story entitled “My Journey From Hater to Fighter of Hatred,” but a video presentation was played instead after Canadian immigration officials forced Szegedi to leave the country. There were rumblings that Szegedi was asked to leave Canada after complaints were made from within the Jewish community.
Roughly 200 people attended the presentation, which became heated at times with people standing and yelling.
“I acknowledge that I have a lot of sins. And this is why I understand those people who are not happy me being here. But these sins I try to rectify not only at the verbal level but at the level of my actions,” said Szegedi in his taped message. “I have to tell the Canadian Jewish community… that I am exactly such a Jew as they are. I cannot help it – as you cannot help it.”
The speaking engagement caused a backlash in Montreal’s Jewish community with some requesting that Szegedi’s invitation to speak be rescinded.
There are conflicting reports about Szegedi’s sudden embracement of Judaism and denouncement of Jobbik, as some reports suggest he only began accepting his Jewish ancestry after attempting to suppress it.
Devorah Shanowitz, program director with The Chabad of Wesmount Educational Centre, told Global News that Szegedi was invited to speak to illustrate the prevalence of extreme anti-Semitism that still exists in Europe.
“My purpose is to give an educational experience to the community specifically the Jewish community,” said Shanowitz. “I think it’s important for the Jewish community to know about this, and for the community to ask him questions and to challenge him on it.”
Shanowitz said the speaking engagement was part of an ongoing educational series that invites people from around the world to speak on a variety of issues affecting the Jewish community.
Szegedi, who has previously been open about his anti-Semitic views and in 2007 co-founded the now outlawed paramilitary group Hungarian Guard, discovered his Jewish grandmother’s ancestry and became ostracized from the Jobbik politically party, officially resigning in 2012.
Shanowitz said reaction to his speaking engagement has been mixed with some claiming Szegedi is insincere or an opportunist.
She hopes that what people took away from the presentation was a message of hope.
“Here is a man who is recorded anti-Semite. I come from Holocaust survivors and from a family that is visibly Jewish. Anti-Semitism for us is a huge problem. He had to confront his Jewish ancestry. And he has acknowledged his responsibility and acknowledged that he was wrong.”
Global News was not able to reach immigration officials for comment.
Global’s current affairs show 16×9 will have more on this story in the new year.