Hungary Seeks Better Image With Jews Amid Anti-Semitism Surge

Hires Heavyweight PR Firm — But Issues Remain

No to Hatred: Hungary has been hit by a rising tide of anti-Semitism.
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No to Hatred: Hungary has been hit by a rising tide of anti-Semitism.

By Ron Kampeas

Published October 23, 2013.
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Armed with a powerful New York public relations outfit and a pledge to commemorate the mass deportation of Hungarian Jewry, the Hungarian government is preparing to challenge what it says is an inaccurate image of a country lax in confronting home-grown extremism.

Ferenc Kumin, an adviser to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who handles international communications, reached out to JTA last week to counter what he says are unfair perceptions of his government’s treatment of Jews and other minorities.

“In the American public discourse, there is a lot of talking of anti-Semitism and racism in Hungary and the connected concerns,” Kumin said in an interview. “We try to bring a realistic picture. We don’t want to say it’s not there. But in certain accounts this issue is exaggerated.”

Kumin’s outreach is part of an intense effort over the last month to push back against perceptions that Hungary has failed to address the rise of anti-Semitism — particularly the emergence of the extremist Jobbik party, which controls 47 of 486 seats in the parliament.

Deputy Prime Minister Tibor Navracsics told a conference on Jewish life and anti-Semitism in Budapest this month that it was time for Hungarians to accept their responsibility for their role in the Holocaust.

“We know that we were responsible for the Holocaust in Hungary,” he said. “We know that Hungarian state interests were responsible.”

Hungary also announced that 2014 would mark Holocaust Remembrance Year, 70 years after the deportation of at least 450,000 Hungarian Jews to the Nazi death camps. And on Monday, the government announced that it had hired Burston-Marsteller, a PR heavyweight based in New York, in part to reach out to the Jewish community.

But U.S. Jewish officials and Hungarian critics say the country’s issues with extremism run deeper and broader than its treatment of the Jews. Navracsic’s speech was a major step forward, they say, but it was just that — a step.

“The fact that he said clearly that we are responsible for the Holocaust here in Hungary was a powerful statement, but why was that dramatic?” wondered Rabbi Andrew Baker, the American Jewish Committee’s director of international affairs. “Most countries have come to recognize their responsibility.


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