BUDAPEST (JTA) — The chairman of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, whose leaders often have inveighed against Jews, Israel and Zionism, said that his party will no longer single out the Jewish state.
Gabor Vona, who last month for the first time sent Hanukkah holiday greetings by Jobbik to at least two Hungarian rabbis, made the unusual remark about Israel during an interview published Wednesday by Reuters.
“If we disagree, we want to be able to criticize Israel like we criticize Sweden or Germany, but naturally we respect its right to exist, form its own identity, opinions and articulate its interests,” Vona said.
The Hanukkah greetings and the statement about Israel are part of an effort by Jobbik to rehabilitate its image ahead of the 2018 general elections, according to Reuters.
Slomo Koves, one the rabbis who received Vona’s Hunakkah greetings, doubted the sincerity of the gesture, citing during an interview with JTA Jobbik’s long record of being “an anti-Semitic party,” as he called it.
Koves noted several anti-Semitic incidents involving Jobbik members, including a public vow made in 2014 by Vona himself to “immediately resign if somebody found out I had Jewish ancestry.” Last year he reaffirmed the statement in an interview.
Over the past year and a half, Koves said, “Jobbik has played a double game: Paying lip service to democratic values to pass off as a people’s party and reach power, while winking at its audience not to take this seriously.”
Some Jobbik supporters opposed the Haunkkah greeting but Vona insisted it was the right move in the Reuters interview. “We were right to do what we did during the holidays,” he said. “If you want to govern you need to partner with all religious and other groups. I will do the same thing (send greetings) in the next holiday season, too.”
A Jobbik parliamentarian in 2012 called for registering Hungarian Jews as threats to national security, though he later said he meant to say Israelis. Last year, a Jobbik alderman from Budapest, Laszlo Benke, boasted over refusing to stand up at a memorial service for a rabbi. The party defended Benke’s actions.
That year, Marton Gyongyosi, then Jobbik’s foreign policy chief, said that, “The Persian people and their leaders are considered pariahs in the eyes of the West, which serves Israeli interests, which is why we have solidarity with the peaceful nation of Iran and turn to her with an open heart.”
Gyongyosi delivered a national tour of lectures on the “Zionist threat to world peace.” In parallel, anti-Jewish and anti-Israel articles took up that year more than 30 percent of the content on the party’s English-language website.
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