Budapest mayor shutters Jewish centre bar

(JTA) – City officials in Budapest shut down the bar and cafeteria of a Jewish community centre that is favoured by opposition activists, saying illegal substances were found during a drug raid there.

The Aurora community centre received the closure notice on Wednesday, two weeks after the raid, in which 30 police officers detained and questioned 15 suspects. Some were found to be in possession of cannabis, said Daniel Mayer, a spokesperson for Aurora.

All suspects have been released but the police investigation is ongoing. The office of the mayor of Budapest’s 8th District has issued a closure notice for an interior bar and a garden café that Aurora, located in a small building in the crime-ridden district, operates in the summer.

The city is claiming Aurora never had a licence to operate the garden café, though Mayer insists it had been operating with permission from the city.

The city says the bar facilitated the consumption of illegal substances. Mayer denies this. “Some people may have been smoking weed but we certainly had no knowledge of this and did not allow it,” he said.

Mayer said the arrests and closure were politically motivated.

Aurora, which was established by the Conservative Jewish Marom group, has a synagogue and is the office of Marom, but it also serves as the headquarters for several groups with a liberal agenda, including opposition organizations critical of Hungary’s right-wing government. These groups include the Roma Press Center, Budapest Pride, the Migszol refugee advocacy group, and the Zold Pok agency for social activism.

In 2014, Budapest officials kicked the group out of its former site in the city center, citing a building safety violation. The eviction notice came two days after opposition activists used the space to plan an anti-government sit-in.

The activity of the nongovernmental groups working from Aurora likely will not be affected directly by the closure, but it could have dire long-term consequences for the community centre, Mayer said.

“The bar and garden café provide us with at least 80 per cent of our budget,” he said. “Aurora depends on this budget to keep running and if they take it away from us, it can be a huge problem.” Aurora will fight the closure in court, he said.

Mayer added: “We are urgently asking for support, also financially because if we don’t find alternative funding from donations, then they will really succeed in closing us down.”

Dozens of supporters of Aurora organized a protest rally at a large square near Aurora on Wednesday evening.

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