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Aug 08, 2019 - Zoltán Kovács

You picked the wrong country to illustrate rising anti-Semitism trends around Europe

Yes, European anti-Semitism is on the rise and it’s cause for concern. But why drag Hungary, one of the few countries where anti-Semitism is in decline, into the discussion?

The Daily Telegraph’s Peter Foster, a staunch opponent of the Hungarian Government, is back with the first installment of a three-part series on anti-Semitism in Europe. In the article entitled, “The watchers trying to protect Europe’s Jews,” the author brings up an important topic – the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe - but commits a serious mistake when he tries to illustrate these shameful trends with an example from Budapest.

Foster begins by citing the number of recorded anti-Semitism incidents in Europe. From 2017 to 2018, he writes, anti-Semitic assaults have increased “in almost all forms,” including a disturbing 197 percent increase in Belgium, 74 percent in France and 60 percent in Italy. However, he fails to mention that Hungary, in fact, is one of the few countries where anti-Semitism has declined.

Instead, Foster invites the unsuspecting reader to picture a Budapest where “the rising sense of fear is echoed” on the streets. If you take this seriously, you might imagine a city full of surveillance devices and Hungarian Jews taking refuge in synagogues. The reality, however, couldn’t be more different.

As Péter Gönci, head of security at Octopus, a mobile app designed to alert a central control and the police in case of anti-Semitic attacks, notes: “physical attacks [on Jews] in Hungary are incredibly rare.” This coincides with David P. Goldman’s report from Budapest last year, who named Hungary the “safest country for European Jews,” a place where no-one gave him a second look as he walked the streets wearing his kippah. Meanwhile, in May, well-known author, international correspondent and long-time Budapest resident, Adam Lebor wrote movingly about a “Jewish renaissance” in Hungary.

Even if Peter Foster – quite apparently – likes to play with the notion of fear in his op-eds, Jewish life in Hungary doesn’t “echo” a “rising sense of fear”.

“In Hungary itself, the signals are mixed,” Foster observes just before calling Prime Minister Orbán a “populist demagogue who has toyed with the meme of the “wandering Jew” in election campaigns.” He is referring, I suppose, to the government’s information campaign about the Soros plan. That campaign had nothing to do with the billionaire’s heritage. It was his biased, pro-migration agenda and political activism that we were calling out.

On the other hand, Foster does note that we have “committed government funds to Jewish cemeteries and hospitals.” Well, thank you but it’s actually much more than that.

Since 2010, Hungary has become one of Israel’s staunchest international supporters and introduced a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism. Prime Minister Orbán was also the first Hungarian prime minister to speak explicitly of Hungary’s guilt, saying that “Hungary sinned when instead of protecting the Jews, we chose to collaborate with the Nazis.” It was an Orbán Government that made Holocaust education a mandatory part of the national curriculum and saw to it that our new constitution specifically identifies the Jewish community as a constituent part of the Hungarian nation. We didn’t only help restore synagogues and Jewish cemeteries but also committed funding to the construction of the first new synagogue in Budapest in 80 years.

These anti-Semitism allegations simply don’t square with reality.