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Nov 29, 2018 - Zoltán Kovács

CNN playing politics with its coverage of Hungary: Here’s the non-story on anti-Semitism and the House of Fates in Budapest

CNN sent a correspondent to Budapest to do a story on the House of Fates, the European education center that will open in 2019 and focuses on the Holocaust years in Hungary. It's a non-story.

The correspondent, Sheena McKenzie, couldn’t very well go home empty handed. She had to come up with something. So she came up with this: “This Holocaust museum cost millions and still hasn’t opened. But that’s not what worries historians,” which was published in the international edition this week. 

As a news feature, it’s a non-story, as slanted as it is slapdash.

The correspondent delivers a critical depiction of the House of Fates European Education Center, reporting that this Holocaust memorial center has cost tens of millions of dollars and has not yet opened. Furthermore, it has stirred controversy over concerns that it “will downplay Hungary's role in the deportation and persecution of Jews.”

First, the House of Fates project has not “ground to a halt,” as the story says, but is scheduled to open in 2019 on the 75th anniversary of Hungary’s Holocaust, a detail the reporter buried in the 23rd paragraph of the story.

Yes, a considerable amount of money has been devoted to this project. It’s a very important part of our nation’s history, and an education center devoted to that tragic era should be done right.

The concerns that the Orbán Government and this museum are “whitewashing the country’s role in the Holocaust” are simply made up. Literally. The reporter is forced to acknowledge that point as well when, citing Rabbi Slomo Köves, she writes that “these concerns are a little premature given that the exhibition is still a work in progress.”

"But if the concern is that it's not right now addressed, well that's just absurd because right now there's no final script [for the exhibition]," said Köves. All those critics that the reporter quotes in her story – indeed, the central line in her story – that’s all made up, based on a hypothetical.

If the reporter had put forth greater effort to find a better balance of sources, she may have come across all the occasions when Prime Minister Orbán and government officials have explicitly acknowledged the role that Hungary played in the Holocaust. Following his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Budapest in July 2017, Prime Minister Orbán said this:

“[I]n an earlier period in history, when it failed to protect Hungary’s citizens of Jewish origin, Hungary’s government not only committed an error, but a crime. I would like to make it clear that, as we see it, it is the duty of every Hungarian government to protect every one of its citizens – regardless of their origins. In the Second World War, Hungary failed to fulfil this duty – this moral and political duty. This was a crime. Then, instead of protecting the Jewish community, we decided to collaborate with the Nazis.” 

Speaking before the House of Fates just a few weeks ago, Minister Gergely Gulyás said that “the fact that the organized, mass deportation of Jews in Hungary to the death camps took place only after the German occupation of Hungary that began March 19, 1944 does not contradict the responsibility that Hungary bears for the crime that the state failed to protect its citizens.” 

Now, if one wants a fuller, fairer picture of how Hungary is not just talking about combating anti-Semitism but taking concrete action, have a look at my earlier blog post, “Let’s have a gloves-off conversation about anti-Semitism.