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.
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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.
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Baker said Orban has spoken out against anti-Semitism. “That’s important and shouldn’t be discounted,” he said. But, he added, “I think they’re more interested in doing PR than getting some of these issues addressed.”

In some cases, Fidesz has appeared to support nationalist sentiment. This year, anti-Semitic Hungarian writers such as Jozsef Nyiro, who was a pro-Nazi member of Hungary’s World War II-era parliament, and Albert Wass have been introduced into Hungary’s new national curriculum. In March, Hungary’s minister of human resources was forced to apologize after his ministry awarded a national honor to Ferenc Szaniszlo, a TV journalist who has a record of making anti-Roma and anti-Semitic statements.

Gyorgy Szabo, who leads a government-financed organization that administers Holocaust restitution funds to the Jewish community, said he knows the human resources minister personally and that he is not an anti-Semite. “It was a mistake,” Szabo said.

Szabo said that since the fall of communism in Hungary in 1990, a succession of governments have failed to quell anti-Semitism. He said hate speech is only worse now because of Hungary’s economy, which took a beating during the global recession. A recent report from the International Monetary Fund noted that “Hungary has been plagued by low growth and high debt for much of the last decade.” Unemployment is at about 11%.

Peter Feldmajer, head of Hungary’s Jewish community, echoed Szabo, saying that the Fidesz government is not anti-Semitic. Feldmajer said the real problem in Hungary is at the local level, where several municipalities have begun to erect statues of Miklos Horthy, a military dictator who ruled Hungary from the end of World War I through most of World War II. Horthy is an incendiary figure in Hungarian-Jewish history because more than 500,000 Jews were murdered or sent to death camps while Horthy remained nominally in power during the German occupation.

Feldmajer compared the present Jewish situation in Hungary favorably with that of nearby countries — particularly France, where physical assault, even murder, has become a real threat. But while most of the active animosity being directed at Jews in countries such as France comes from Arab and Muslim communities, in Hungary hate emanates from ethnic Hungarians who make up 92% of the population.

So far, the Roma have borne the brunt of the bigotry. Paramilitary groups allied with Jobbik have terrorized Roma communities since 2006, according to a report by the European Roma Rights Center. In recent years, seven Roma have been killed, including a 5-year-old boy, in 22 known cases of anti-Roma violence cataloged by the ERRC.

Hungarian Jews said they do not feel physically threatened. But they agreed that racial discourse has become poisonous. “The most problematic thing is the atmosphere, what is in the air,” Feldmajer said. “It’s a bad feeling for Jews, for Romas, because the hate speech is so strong in Hungary.”

Shlomo Koves, a Chabad rabbi, said that he suffered more physical attacks during a couple of years living in Paris during the late 1990s than he has experienced during the past decade in Budapest. But Koves said that in Budapest, “the verbal anti-Semitism is becoming really bad.” He said that in the past couple of years he has been spat at and people have screamed at him “Dirty Jew!” or “Hungary belongs to Hungarians.”

Contact Paul Berger at berger@forward.com or on Twitter @pdberger


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