Last Sunday, February 1, the foundation stone for the first new synagogue in Hungary in 80 years was laid in the Csepel district of the Hungarian capital, Budapest against a background of rising anti-Semitism.
The foundation ceremony for Budapest's new synagogue was significant, having taken place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day but recent events in Hungary, where there have been ominous signs that anti-Semitism is on the rise, are becoming a source of concern to Jewish religious organisations and European parliamentarians.
The new synagogue in the Hungarian capital will have a capacity for 120 and is scheduled for completion in autumn 2014. It will also serve as a cultural centre embracing history, ethics and language programmes, reports the Budapest Times. Last Sunday’s ceremony was attended by Ilan Mor, the Israeli ambassador to Hungary, Cardinal Péter Erdõ, Hungarian Minister of Defence Csaba Hende, Secretary of State János Fónagy, local mayor Szilárd Németh and Jewish religious leaders.
Building work for Budapest’s new synagogue started on International Holocaust Remembrance Day which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, in what is now southern Poland in 1945. Speaking at last Sunday’s ceremony, local mayor Szilárd Németh said, “Like all other parts of the country, Csepel was hit by the persecution of Jews and by World War II.” He continued, “According to our information 960 people of Jewish origin were deported from Csepel, of which only 60 returned.”
Hungary now has a relatively small Jewish population, although it was not always so. The Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (MAZSIHISZ) estimates that currently there are around 120,000 Jews living in Hungary, the majority in and around Budapest. That puts Jews as a proportion of the present day population of Hungary, at around 1.2%. Before the Second World War, About.com’s section on twentieth century history puts the pre-war population of Jews in Hungary at 825,000, estimating that 550,000 Hungarian Jews perished during World War II and as a result of the Holocaust.
Despite Jews in Hungary now making up a tiny proportion of the total population, work on Budapest’s new synagogue starts against a background of rising anti-Semitism. In spring 2012, Zsolt Baráth a Hungarian parliamentary member for the ultra-nationalist Jobbik party caused uproar when he made reference to the 1882 blood libel against the Jews in the Hungarian parliament.
Last December, an opinion piece in Digital Journal reported on the arrest of Hungarian parliamentarian Balazs Lenhardt after the burning an Israeli flag at an anti-Zionist demonstration taking place in the Hungarian capital. During the demonstration, protesters are reported to have shouted anti-Semitic slogans, such as "Filthy Jews" and "To Auschwitz With You All."
More recently, Jewish organisations across Europe condemned the speaker of the Hungarian parliament for failing to discipline Jobbik member of parliament Márton Gyöngyösi who'd made a statement in the Hungarian parliament on November 27, calling upon the Hungarian government to draw up lists of Jews who pose a "national security risk."
The inaction of the Hungarian parliamentary authorities to address the issue was recently condemned by Joel Rubinfeld and Tomer Orni, co-chairmen of the European Jewish Parliament and CEO of the European Jewish Union, respectively who led a delegation to the Hungarian parliament in mid-January. In the course of their visit to Budapest, they called upon Hungarian authorities to beef up the country’s laws on hate speech and focus on education to combat what they saw as a rising tide of anti-Semitism.
The European Jewish Press quotes Tomer Orni as saying,
"Hungary is today at the European epicentre of raising anti-Semitism and racism. We intend to work together with the Hungarian Government on isolating the hate-preacher politicians.”
Joel Rubinfeld aimed his remarks at the ultra-nationalists of Jobbik, saying,
“Jobbik is today planting the seeds of hate which, if strong measures are not taken, will tomorrow create a generation of anti-Semites and racists. Legal tools and education are urgently needed to avoid it to happen."
In the 2009 elections to the European Parliament, the far right Jobbik party came from virtually nowhere gaining three seats and coming third in the vote nationally. The following year, in the 2010 Hungarian general election, Jobbik moved from having no parliamentary representatives to gaining 47 seats in the 386 member unicameral parliament after two rounds of voting under proportional representation.