Jewish Congress Prepares To Meet in Hungary Amid Claims of Anti-Semitism

Premier Will Speak, But Is He Doing Enough To Fight Hatred?

No to Hatred: Hungary has been hit by a rising tide of anti-Semitism. But there have also been signs of support for Jewish life in the central European nation.
getty images
No to Hatred: Hungary has been hit by a rising tide of anti-Semitism. But there have also been signs of support for Jewish life in the central European nation.

By Paul Berger

Published April 29, 2013, issue of May 03, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The World Jewish Congress’s upcoming quadrennial assembly, scheduled for May 5 in Budapest, Hungary, promises to be a complicated affair. It arrives just one month after WJC President Ronald Lauder’s public condemnation of his host country’s prime minister for presiding over “a xenophobic and increasingly anti-Semitic country.”

In fact, Lauder says proudly, this is precisely why he has decided to hold his group’s annual gathering in Hungary. And Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s acceptance of the WJC’s invitation to address its opening dinner will only add to the anticipated high drama.

WJC spokesman Michael Thaidigsmann said Lauder’s condemnation of Orban was not meant as a “slap in the face” and that the WJC looks forward to hearing “what [Orban] has to say.”

But for all the stagecraft the WJC has devoted to delivering a message to Hungary’s government, many others involved, including key Jewish leaders, say that Lauder’s depiction of Orban’s government as pandering to anti-Semitism is simplistic. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Forward, “We’re encouraged that the Orban government is showing greater awareness of the problem of anti-Semitism in Hungary and has begun to improve its responsiveness.”

It was on April 4 that Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir, former ambassador to Austria and longtime Jewish leader, published an opinion piece lashing out at Orban. In the jeremiad, which appeared in Süddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, Lauder accused the Hungarian leader of having “lost his political compass” and of transforming himself from a once “dynamic, but pragmatic conservative” into “an ideologue for Hungarian nationalism.”

“The number of anti-Semitic or anti-Roma [Gypsy] statements increased dramatically in recent years, and some of them have come from senior members of the prime minister’s party or his government,” Lauder wrote.

A Hungarian government official, who did not wish to be named because he had not been authorized to speak on the matter, said that Lauder’s statement was a shock, particularly because it came shortly after Orban had accepted Lauder’s invitation to address his group’s dinner, which kicks off the two-day conference.

“This is how life treats you very well if you are an NGO,” the Hungarian official said, referring to the WJC’s status as a nongovernmental organization. “You can say what you want, and don’t have to bother with facts.”

The official said Lauder mischaracterized the situation in Hungary. He directed the Forward to testimony delivered before a U.S. House of Representatives hearing on anti-Semitism in February, in which a former Hungarian government minister rejected the idea that the Orban government was anti-Semitic.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.