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article imageOp-Ed: Hungary's Jews face rising anti-Semitism

By Raluca Besliu     Dec 16, 2012 in Politics
On Friday, independent parliamentarian Balazs Lenhardt was arrested by Budapest police for burning an Israeli flag at an anti-Zionist demonstration taking place in the Hungarian capital.
After some questioning, he was released, as he enjoys parliamentary immunity from prosecution, which protects members of Parliament from having to respond for their voting records or expressing opinions before a parliamentary court or other authority and from having criminal proceedings initiated against them.
The demonstration, organized by the Guardians of Carpathian Homeland Movement and the Guard Federation in front of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry, was attended by around 100 people. The participants shouted anti-Semitic slogans, such as "Filthy Jews" and "To Auschwitz With You All." The Foreign Ministry has condemned the slogans as shameful tools of insulting a minority and the flag’s burning as an act suited for instigating hatred against the Jewish nation. It expressed its firm rejection of all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
Lenhardt is a former member of the extremist Jobbik party, currently the third largest in the Hungarian parliament. Only last month, during a debate on the Gaza Strip conflict, Jobbik’s Marton Gyongyosi called on the government to draw up a list of people of Jewish ancestry in Hungary who represented a national security threat. This type of offensive remarks seem to be part of Jobbik’s strategy to enhance its chances of winning the 2014 elections.
Just as the Foreign Ministry rejected Lenhardt’s act, in responding to Gyongyosi, the government emphasized that it strictly rejects extremist, racist, anti-Semitic opinions of any kind and is, in fact, striving to suppress them. Moreover, in a rare act of solidarity, leaders from the opposition party and government took part in a rally, organized on December 2 and attended by thousands of Hungarians, came together in a show of unity to condemn what many of them consider an inexcusable remark.
Nevertheless, in recent times, there have been various other instances of anti-Semitism in Hungary, such as the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and a verbal attack on 90-year-old former Chief Rabbi Joseph Schweitzer, who, in June 2012, was accosted near his Budapest home by a man who insulted him and shouted, “I hate all Jews.”
According to the chief rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, the problem with Jobbik putting forth anti-Semitic discourse is that could negatively influence some of the Hungarian people’s perception of and attitude toward the Jewish community, by transforming anti-Semitism into a way of expressing frustration in general.
The leader of Mazsihisz, the Association of Jewish Communes in Hungary, added that Jobbik is dangerous, because its attitude and statements incite racism and hatred, especially under poor economic conditions. Given Hungary’s current struggle to end recession and come out of debt by imposing a series of austerity measures, Jobbik’s anti-Semitism might further inflame social tensions.
In reaction to this tense political climate, many Jews are determined to protect their right to express their identity. It is estimated that 500,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust after Hungary sided with the Nazis in the Second World War.
While the Jewish population’s effort to combat the acts targeting them is a great expression of resistance, what is most needed is a firmer political reaction to anti-Semitic speech and actions. Lenhardt’s immunity should have been lifted and he should have been held responsible for his grave and offensive actions. The parliamentarian should not have been allowed to simply walk away after taking part in the Friday demonstration and burning the Israeli’s flag. Lenhardt’s activities sent out the message that it is acceptable not only to harness such hatred toward the Jewish minority, but also to publicly express it in any desired way. In fact, Friday’s demonstration and Lenhardt’s gesture were only possible because the government, although immediately distancing itself from Gyongyosi's tatements last month and taking part in the manifestations against him, did not adopt the stronger measure, which would have been to demand his resignation, as sought by the thousands of protesters present at the rally. While Orban, the prime minister, remained silent and Laszlo Kover, the Parliament speaker, called for new regulations outlawing hate speech, only the opposition took a stronger stance, emphasizing that they will boycott the foreign affairs committee as long as Mr. Gyogyosi remained a member. Of course, this did not pressurize the Jobbik representative enough to resign.
Some analysts believe that the anti-Semitic slurs could work against Jobbik on the long run, even though current polls indicate that the party has retained its voter base. This is a risky assumption that should be rejected. The Jobbik has the widest youth audience of all Hungarian parties. The youth is arguably the most influenciable voter group. It would be disastrous if, instead of losing its audience and influence, the Jobbik increased its youth support and managed to form a young Hungarian population increasingly racist and supportive of all forms and expressions of hate. This terrifying prospect is what the other Hungarian parties should be increasingly wary of and should determine them never to ignore the hateful actions of the Jobbik, but to respond to them promptly and firmly.
At the same time, the international community, particularly the European Union (EU), has the responsibility to condemn the Lenhardt incident and the wider anti-Semitic current in Hungary as well as to demand that the Hungarian authorities take immediate measure to tackle this problematic issue. Hungary’s growing manifestations of hate speech and hate crimes are not an exception at the European level, but almost the norm. The EU institutions should, therefore, take EU-wide measures and more boldly intervene in all hate instances occurring in EU countries.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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