BERLIN – Anti-Jewish comments from the Hungarian daily Magyar Hirlap and the passage of a restrictive new media law in early July by Hungary’s conservative government have prompted sharp criticism from American and Austrian media outlets.
Zsolt Bayer, a columnist for the right-wing daily, had referred to Jews as “stinking excrement called something like Cohen.”
Bayer has a journalistic track record of attacking Jews, according to critics. In 2010, he asserted that the Hungarian Academy of Science has been infiltrated by Jews.
Responding to Bayer’s anti- Jewish rhetoric earlier this year, Karl Pfeifer, an Austrian- Jewish journalist who writes for papers in Hungary and Austria, called Bayer a “fecal anti-Semite”in the Austrian daily Die Presse. Pfeifer’s commentary triggered a Magyar Hirlap article and a wave of alleged anti-Semitic reader comments on the website of the Hungarian paper.
Pfeifer, who escaped the Holocaust, was termed a “gaschamber deserter” in the reader comment section.
Other readers invoked the terms “Jewish scabs” and “Jewish lice,” stating that “the Israeli-Jewish occupiers...
bring only conflict and ruin, while sucking our blood like parasites and draining our vigor.”
Last week, the Austrian Press Club Concordia, an Austrian journalists’ association, filed a formal complaint alleging a violation of the non-discrimination clause contained in the European Union’s charter. According to the complaint sent to Hungary’s press commission,the Hungarian daily has refused to expunge the “anti-Semitic and misanthropic” postings.
Szabolcs Voros, a journalist at the foreign desk of Magyar Hirlap told The Jerusalem Post
during a telephone interview on Tuesday that the paper “rejects the charge of anti- Semitism.” He said “we hear it a lot and do not understand it. The anti-Semitism stamp is put on us from the other side.”
The “other side,” Voros said, referred to other Hungarian media outlets. Asked specifically about Bayer’s writings targeting Jews, Voros said critics were quoting only “half-sentences” and Bayer’s words were being stripped of their context.
Speaking from Israel on Monday, Pfeifer, who lives in Vienna and is visiting family, told the Post
that Bayer has close ties to the right-wing government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party. These close relations, Pfeifer says, help explain why the media oversight authorities are refusing to take action against Bayer’s diatribes against Jews.
Writing on the website of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in late July, Ben Cohen, a prominent US-based journalist and broadcaster who served as the American Jewish Committee’s assistant director of communications, said “Bayer’s style mirrors the screeching, obscene rants of Julius Streicher, editor of the Nazi rag “Der Stuermer.”
Cohen also sharply attacked the new Hungarian media law for repressive
measures against the liberal Hungarian daily Nepszava because it
lampooned Hungary’s president. He took Hungary’s government to task,
moreover, for failing to stop violence against its ethnic minority
group, Roma, and its judicial system for the recent acquittal of
97-yearold Sandor Kepiro, who was reportedly involved in the murders of
Hungarian Jews and Serbian nationals during World War II.
In an e-mail to the Post
on Tuesday, a spokesman for Hungary's State Secretariat for Government Communication wrote
: “The government of Hungary has taken numerous measures
in the past months related to national minorities, especially the Roma
community. Since the formation of the new government, Roma issues were
in the forefront of our domestic and international policies and
politics. A separate State Secretariat for Social Inclusion was
established, with the fundamental goal that individuals and groups in
disadvantaged positions, such as Roma people, should have access to
their fair share of the expanding opportunities available.”
The spokesman continued, “It was a major achievement for the Hungarian
government that during the Hungarian presidency in the first half of
2011 a Roma Framework Strategy was endorsed and adopted by the European
Council, for the first time in the existence of the European Union. The
Strategy introduces a framework on a European level, pinpointing the
areas of social inclusion for the Romas such as employment, education,
poverty and social exclusion.”
Responding to the new media law, the spokesman wrote that “the law
initially was adopted by Parliament with an aim at providing high legal
defense against hatred or injury against minority groups living in
Hungary. The text of the law stated, that ‘Broadcasting content may not
be directed against any minorities or a majority as an explicit or
implicit insult.’” He added “Unfortunately, in February 2011 according
to the decision of the European Commission lead by Neelie Kroes,
European Commissioner for Digital Agenda, the Hungarian Parliament was
obliged to repeal the provision to prohibit implicit insult against any
individual, minorities or the majority, retaining the prohibition on
social exclusion in the law.”
Cohen, the US-based journalist, told the Post
that State Secretariat for Government Communication's “response is completely unsatisfactory. It contains
platitudes about protecting the Roma, and is offensive given the current
levels of violence and discrimination against Roma.”
Cohen said Hungary's government had failed to answer criticisms about
the government punishing media organizations like Nepszava, and noted
that the ministry did not address the Magyar Hirlap case. The response
is “worthless,” said Cohen.