Jan 10, 2018 - Zoltán Kovács

Die Welt and the never-ending accusations of anti-Semitism

Taking out of context and misinterpreting a statement that Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made several weeks ago, an article published recently in Die Welt raises – again – the tired and groundless charges of anti-Semitism.

“As regards the hegemony of the view of history,” wrote Lars-Broder Keil in the Germany paper, “it isn’t only about the dispute around Central European University in Budapest, which promotes open societies in post-communist states. In the middle of the [last] year, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán praised the Hungarian regent and later Hitlerite ally Miklós Horthy as an ‘exceptional statesman’.”

In fact, the prime minister, who was speaking at an event honoring Kuno Klebelsberg, Hungary’s minister of Education from 1922 to 1931, was paying respect to three figures – Prime Minister István Bethlen (1921-1931), Kuno Klebelsberg (1922-1931), and Governor Horthy – for their contributions during a terribly difficult period for Hungary, after the First World War. Following the remarks, members of the international press corps flooded us with the usual questions and criticisms, but Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó put them in their place, underlining that the era “included both positive and extremely negative periods” and that Horthy himself had committed grave, “historical sin.”

It would have been naïve to think that the issue would go away entirely, but I thought we had put this particular moment to rest. Well, I was wrong.

When an international correspondent needs ammunition to criticize Prime Minister Orbán and his government, he or she will frequently play the anti-Semitism card. And no matter how many times they make the charge, it still doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Here’s the thing.

The Orbán Governments, based on a policy of “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism, have done more than any other Hungarian government to counter anti-Semitism in Hungary. Just a few examples: during the first Orbán Government in 2001, Hungary established a Memorial Day for the Victims of the Holocaust, which is now observed every year; in 2012, Hungary’s new constitution, the Fundamental Law, entered into force, recognizing Hungary’s Jewish community as an inseparable part of the Hungarian nation, the Parliament banned hate symbols and paramilitary groups, and Hungary finally reached an agreement with the Claims Conference regarding compensation and restitution and restored support for the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. Also in 2012, the government established a forum to address Jewish issues, the Jewish Roundtable, which still convenes quarterly and will meet again next week. Last year, in a letter to Hungary’s consulate in New York, 11 Orthodox rabbis wrote to “condemn the instigation” against Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government, while during his historical visit to Budapest, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Hungary for “standing up for Israel at the forefront of the opposition to anti-Semitism.”

The mainstream media, due to their ignorance or deliberate omission, rarely mention any of these details.

The role of Miklós Horthy in Hungarian history has long been a source of great controversy and, to be clear, his era of leadership included, as Minister Szijjártó put it, “extremely negative periods” and “historical sin”. But for those who know their facts, this much remains beyond question: Prime Minister Orbán and his governments have done more than any other to fight anti-Semitism in Hungary.