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Jul 13, 2017

No government has done more to fight anti-Semitism in Hungary than PM Orbán’s

Several days ago, Prime Minister Orbán was speaking about a group of leaders that served during a tough period in Hungary’s history, the inter-war period, and his remarks generated some controversy. Inevitably, some raised the worn-out charge of anti-Semitism. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó put them properly in their place.

The prime minister was speaking at an event honoring Kuno Klebelsberg, Hungary’s minister of Education from 1922 to 1931, who established Hungary’s rural education system and opposed the so-called numerus clausus (a limit on the number of Jewish students accepted into higher education). Here’s what the PM said:

“The second and the third decade of the twentieth century was a heavy test for Hungary’s history. The fact that history did not bury us under the heavy weight of losing the World War, the 133 days of Red [Communist] Terror and the Trianon Peace Dictate, we can thank some exceptional statesmen: Governor Miklós Horthy, Prime Minister István Bethlen (1921-1931) and Minister [of Education and Culture] Kuno Klebelsberg (1922-1931). Without a governor, there is no prime minister. Without a prime minister, there is no minister. And this fact cannot be denied even by Hungary’s sorrowful participation in the Second World War.”

And here’s how Minister Szijjártó responded candidly to the critics:

“History must be respected, and the historical facts indicate that the activities of Miklós Horthy as governor included both positive and extremely negative periods,” he said. The positive side of Horthy, the minister explained is putting Hungary back on track in the twenties, following the war, but later, Horthy failed. “It is,” Szijjártó continued, “[a] historical sin that despite his oath he did not protect Hungary’s Jews, who were part of the Hungarian nation. It belongs in the category of historical sin that laws that discriminated against Jews were introduced during his time in office and that hundreds of thousands of Jews fell victim to the Holocaust.”

“It is no accident that the government has placed the most emphasis on issues relating to the teaching of the Holocaust in schools,” the minister added. “We will continue to protect the Jewish community in future against any and all attacks of an anti-Semitic nature and against any attempts to endanger or discriminate against Hungary’s Jewish community.”

Hearing once again these charges of anti-Semitism directed at the prime minister and the government, I feel compelled to recite, once again, a few of the things that the Orbán Governments have actually done on this issue.

During the first Orbán Government, in 2001, Hungary established the Memorial Day for the Hungarian Victims of the Holocaust and the government established the Holocaust Museum. During the second Orbán Government, in 2012, the Fundamental Law entered into force, recognizing Hungarian Jewry as an inseparable part of the Hungarian nation. Also, during that period, the parliament passed cardinal laws that increased the punishment for hate speech and displaying hate symbols. The Orbán Government established a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism and effectively banned paramilitary groups intimidating Jewish and Roma citizens. It was a member of the Orbán Government who apologized for the state’s role in the Holocaust.

One might wonder why none of that happened under other governments. One might also wonder why it took so long for Hungary to come to an agreement with the Claims Conference and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, but it was the Orbán Government that did so and Hungary began to pay what’s due. It was also the Orbán Government that devoted resources to the reconstruction of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and built the first new synagogue in 80 years. It was our government that raised the pensions of Holocaust survivors.

Recently, in a letter to Hungary’s consulate in New York, 11 Orthodox rabbis wrote to “condemn the instigaton” against Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government, who “help restore and maintain the cemeteries in Hungary that were desecrated by the Nazis during the Second World War,” they said. “[H] e and his government have been outstanding in their commitment and help towards this and any other issue related to Orthodox Jewry.”

Yet won’t read these details in the mainstream media, however. And that’s not all we’re missing from the international press. While some just won’t let go of this baseless criticism, it seems that they are at the same time giving a free pass to another group with a long history of anti-Semitism.

Jobbik has become a favorite among liberals to replace the government next year. The far-right party tries very hard these days to dress up its image, but if we’re having a serious conversation about anti-Semitism, there are a few things we mustn’t forget about Jobbik.

Still-active members of the party spat on a Holocaust memorial on the banks of the Danube and proposed to draw up a list of members of the Hungarian parliament with Jewish heritage. The Jobbik mayor of Ózd thought it was a good idea to pose for a photograph with a Hitler impersonator. A recent American documentary, Keep Quiet!, shows the hardship endured by a former vice-president of Jobbik after a fellow party member exposed his Jewish heritage in order to force him out of the party.  I could go on.

The point is that the anti-Semitism charge against the Orbán Government just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Meanwhile, an extremist political party that has a long, troubling history of anti-Semitism is largely ignored.