Jack Mendel
The Online Editor at the Jewish News

Sorry ambassador, Hungary should be judged on what it does not what it says

Viktor Orban (Jewish News)
Viktor Orban (Jewish News)

As a journalist, I try to stick to writing the news, not being news. But this week to my horror, I was at the receiving end of a letter from Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky, the Hungarian ambassador in London.

I had written a report about the Board of Deputies agreeing to meet with a minister from Hungary, whose government is led by Viktor Orban.

The embassy took issue with the “absolutely outrageous” labelling of its government as ‘far-right’.

Of course, Hungary’s engagement with the Jewish community both here and at home is welcome. The country has undoubtedly taken steps to improve its reputation when it comes to antisemitism, including blocking Holocaust denial websites . There has been a significant 23-percent drop in anti-Jewish incidents in Hungary according to a 2018 report.

But – and it’s a big but – nothing can conceal its actions in recent years in engaging with transparent forms of intolerance.

When Conservative MEPs voted to defend Orban’s government in April 2018, the Board of Deputies said it was “very alarmed” by his election campaign, including his comments about ‘Muslim invaders’, calling migrants ‘poison’, as well as antisemitism at the heart of the smear campaign against George Soros.

It also criticised the “whipping up of prejudice.. restrictions on press freedom and the independence of the judiciary.”

So accusing such a government of being far-right isn’t editorialising, as the ambassador claims.

In his letter, the ambassador insists his country is “..dedicated towards a true and meaningful Holocaust-remembrance policy and supports the Jewish community in Hungary in all its endeavours”.

But it’s clear, there’s been limited acknowledgement of Hungary’s downplaying of its far-right problem, as well as the revising of its actions during the Shoah.

In December there was concern in Hungary’s Jewish community over a proposed Holocaust memorial which would “whitewash” what really transpired on Hungarian soil during the Holocaust.

In 2013, Orban planned a statue for Balint Homan, a Nazi collaborator who promoted deportation of Jews in the Shoah, and he was criticised for praising former ally of Adolf Hitler, Miklos Horthy. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum also slammed him for granting a prestigious award to Zsolt Bayer, who “has a long record of racist speech and has written highly provocative anti-Semitic and anti-Roma articles.”

And there’s the Hungary’s policies towards its Jews today, where the Jewish-run community centre in Budapest, Auróra, claimed it “became a sort of enemy of the state” by promoting civil organisations.

Orban also backed the Figyelo magazine, after it published a front page with  Andras Heisler – head of the Jewish umbrella body, alongside falling banknotes, and has repeatedly defended a campaign against Jewish billionaire George Soros, which EU officials labelled antisemitic.

Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky’s letter includes passages with irrelevant distractions, including one about Dame Margaret Hodge and the “growing anxiety of the British Jewry”, which are not justifications for concerns over the Hungarian government’s position.

The envoy also unapologetically says there should be more concern about the rise of antisemitism in Western Europe, “partly due to the phenomenon of increasing antisemitism on the left and the influx of Muslim immigrants, a significant number with antisemitic and anti-Israel views”; a sweeping generalisation about Muslims, fitting in with a track record of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

The reality, is I’d be more inclined to believe this ambassador’s word when he says the government is not far-right, if it didn’t act like it and adopt rhetoric and policies that fits that description.

About the Author
Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.
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