Hungary’s Jews anxious at far-right rise

European Jewish Congress: "Obsessive" anti-Semitism growing.

April 13, 2010 01:29
2 minute read.
Member of the European Parliament Krisztina Morvai

Jobbik 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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Hungary’s Jews are worried following the stunning electoral success over the weekend of the far-right Jobbik party, which ran on an openly anti-Semitic and anti-Roma platform and accuses Jews of driving Hungary into a steep economic downturn.

“Today is a very dark time for modern Hungary,” Peter Feldmajer, president of the Hungarian Jewish community, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. “It is a very dangerous direction not just for Hungarian Jews, but for Hungarian democracy.”

Jobbik, which has ties to a nationalist, uniformed militia called the Hungarian Guard, took third place in the Sunday elections, winning 16.6 percent of the national vote, just short of the incumbent Socialists, who collapsed to 20% of the vote after eight years in power.

The landslide winner at the ballot box, with 53%, was the center-right Fidesz party, which took pains on Monday to calm a nervous world.

“The best recipe I can provide is good governance. I’m convinced that the better the government’s performance is, the weaker the far right will be in the future,” said Viktor Orban, leader of Fidesz and the incoming prime minister.

Orban promised his government would battle Hungary’s extremely high rate of joblessness, which official unemployment figures put at just over 11%, but more realistic estimates assess could be as high as 20%. Economic hardship is believed to be the main force driving voters toward Jobbik.

“The last three years have been bad,” says Feldmajer, “and it will be the same for the near future.”

Of Jobbik’s 800,000 votes, Feldmajer believes only “maybe 100,000 or 200,000 are actually anti-Semitic or anti-Gypsy.”

The rest, he said, voted their frustration at a political elite that has seen the nation’s economy nosedive in recent years.

“We hope the democratic parties, the conservatives and the socialists, will work together against the racists,” said Feldmajer.

The election results cast a shadow over a communal Holocaust commemoration ceremony, held under heavy guard in Budapest on Monday.

The event was organized by the Bnei Akiva youth movement and the local organization of Israeli students, and drew some 200 participants, including members of the local Jewish community and representatives from the Israeli embassy.

“There was tension in the air,” according to Amit Davidson, a Bnei Akiva emissary at the event.

“The ceremony was more powerful than in previous years because the connection to the Holocaust was clearer. A party was elected to the parliament with a platform that talks against Jews and Gypsies. Hungarian Jews are very worried, and don’t stop talking about the election results,” he said.

Europe’s Jewish umbrella organization also expressed concern over the rise of Jobbik. In a statement Monday, the European Jewish Congress warned of the “obsessive anti-Semitism that is sadly growing and gaining power and respectability across the continent.”

It said Jobbik’s electoral success proved “that acceptable anti-Semitism, xenophobia and racism are still alive and well in parts of Europe,” and called for “a major offensive against hate in Europe.”

“The recent European elections proved that the far right is a force in Europe, and now they are bolstering those results with national election successes,” said the Congress’ president Moshe Kantor.

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