Anti-Semitism and European nationalism

My personal alarm regarding nationalistic tendencies is that they foster rabid anti- Semitism.

August 26, 2013 21:42
2 minute read.
Far-right Jobbik party rally in Budapest, May 4, 2013

Far-right Jobbik party rally370. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Long brewing in my mind, I was finally prompted to write this article when a friend called my attention on Facebook to a scene that took place in Hungary during the nationally televised football game between Ferencvaros and MTK. In the middle of it all, fans unfurled a huge banner in memory of Csatary Laszlo – a war criminal who earned the distinction of being on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s list of most wanted Nazi war criminals.

This sort of nationalistic sentiment is something I have been frequently witnessing in Hungary during my visits to Budapest. I am a Hungarian-speaking Jew, and with a brother living in Budapest, I have had ample opportunity to visit Hungary, a country whose current right-wing government has earned its recent criticism from the European Union Parliament. Here the nascent right-wing and fascist Jobbik Party has now garnered one fifth of the Hungarian parliament seats. They are not just a phenomena. Moreover, the recent murder of six Roma during a racist killing spree has hardly earned any criticism from the state.

For the most part members of the Jewish community in Hungary are speaking out; witness the recent opposition and petition to the mayor of Budapest against naming a street after anti-Semitic author Cecil Tormay.

However, it has been my observation that the same Jewish community is once again falling under the spell of Hungarian nationalism.

Once again because this was a rather well documented phenomena during the interwar period and on the eve of World War II. I attended a writer’s symposium last spring held at the Budapest Zsido Center and was astonished when one of the speakers, a young man who has lived Israel and now resettled in Budapest, declared, “ I am a Hungarian first and a Jew second.” I think that history bears sad witness to the fact that whatever a Jew thinks he is during his lifetime, in the beginning and in the end, he is a Jew.

My personal alarm regarding nationalistic tendencies is that they foster rabid anti- Semitism. In Budapest this is seen from the flea markets where Arrow Cross and Nazi memorabilia are the popular craze, to café conversations.

A woman attorney acquaintance in Budapest recently regaled me with tales of the “bloodbath” perpetrated by the Jews and the communists against the Hungarian people immediately after WWII. These facts are both a cautionary tale and hard-hitting reality, playing out in Hungary and elsewhere throughout Europe. To borrow a phrase from historian Bernard Wasserstein, we are witnessing a European phenomenon of stigmatization, expropriation, extrusion and violence.

The author is a recent immigrant to Israel from Orlando, Florida, and is now enrolled at the University of Haifa’s Holocaust Studies program. He was born in Hungary.

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