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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“We need to keep those words in mind. But the question is will they rest as mere words, or do they become operational?”

Unlike Jobbik, Orban’s Fidesz party is not openly anti-Semitic. But in competing for voters, Baker said Fidesz flirts with themes that unsettle Hungary’s 100,000 Jews — for instance, reviving and honoring anti-Semitic figures associated with Miklos Horthy, the nationalist regent who ruled Hungary until 1944 and was allied for a time with the Nazis.

Michael Salberg, the Anti-Defamation League’s associate director of international affairs, praised Navracsic’s speech as “unambiguous” in its commitment to fight anti-Semitism, but added that the problem of extremism would not be excised simply by dealing with the Jewish issue.

“The real hard work is weaving this commitment into the social fabric, making it part of civil society’s commitment to improving democracy,” he said, noting that Hungary’s Roma minority continue to suffer discrimination and violent attacks. “What we see is a problem that goes beyond the Jewish community that needs to be addressed.”

Kumin said Jobbik and its anti-Semitism was marginal; Orban leads a coalition that controls 263 seats in parliament compared to Jobbik’s 47. And Kumin noted that Orban and his party have condemned every manifestation of anti-Semitism.

He acknowledged, however, that the image of Hungary as extremist was among the greatest obstacles to deepening ties with its most important ally, the United States, particularly as the country seeks new investment in its emergence from an economic crisis.

“We have to clarify these image problems,” Kumin said. “If we are able to do that, it can remain a well-functioning relationship.”

Judit Csaki, a Jewish critic of the Hungarian government, said its condemnations of anti-Semitism were mere theater designed to distract the world from laws being championed by Orban that weaken the constitutional courts and limit speech that threatens the “dignity” of the Hungarian nation.

The European Parliament has condemned the measures as anti-democratic, and the European Commission is considering legal action against the new laws.

“Their tactic is, as long as we are upset by the anti-Semitic comments made by Jobbik, at least we are not complaining about these attempts to criminalize the opposition,” Csaki said.

Andras Kovacs, who heads the Jewish Studies and Nationalism programs at Central European University in Budapest, said the government deserves credit for at least addressing the issue of anti-Semitism.

“The proportion of anti-Semitism in Hungary is higher than in other countries” in Europe, he said. “The declarations are there. Now let’s see what happens.”


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