Hungarian con men assault, hurl antisemitic abuse at Israeli tourists - report

One con man punched the 65-year-old disabled mother, while the other attempted to rob the daughter.

 Tamar Gvirtz-Hayardeni and mother on their way to Budapest. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tamar Gvirtz-Hayardeni and mother on their way to Budapest.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

An Israeli mother and daughter were enjoying a vacation in Hungary last week when some men, falsely presenting themselves as subway conductors, allegedly began harassing the duo with antisemitic remarks which escalated to a physical assault.

48-year-old Tamar Hayardeni and her 65-year-old mother were on a train on September 7 in Budapest when, they claim, the con men began to make antisemitic gestures mimicking the length of their noses. Antisemitic propaganda has often depicted Jews with elongated semitic noses, so the pair understood that these actions were related to their Jewish identity.

The con men also told the pair to “go to Israel.”

How did the interaction begin?

Hayardeni and her unnamed mother exited their train when the con men approached them, insisting that their tickets were not valid and that they needed to pay them a fine.

My mother is well-acquainted with Budapest, and an argument broke out when she told them that what they were saying was not true," Hayardeni recounted to Ynet. "We quickly realized they were trying to scam us. They took our passports in order to levy a fine. They also stopped other tourists who were getting off the train and made the same claim against all of them. We refused to pay." 

 Tamar Gvirtz-Hayardeni and mother on their way to Budapest. (credit: Courtesy)
Tamar Gvirtz-Hayardeni and mother on their way to Budapest. (credit: Courtesy)

"The conductors cornered us in an area where there were no security cameras," she said. "They demanded that we pay a 250 euro fine and even offered us a half-price discount if we paid in cash. It was very scary. We decided to call the police and told the conductors that the police were on their way.

"In the meantime, they continued to scam other tourists. At that point, we started filming, but then the conductors attacked us. One of them pushed me to the ground and tried to steal the camera. The other one punched my mother, who was filming; she's a 65-year-old disabled woman."

"After several long minutes of confrontation, the conductors realized that the Hungarian police were actually on their way and wanted to end the incident. They wrote a report, returned it to us along with our passports, and we didn't pay a cent," Hayardeni continued.

"At that point, I decided I wasn't going to let it go, and then the event, which began as a scam, took an antisemitic turn. Of course, they knew we were Israelis because of our passports. One of the conductors told us, 'You're Jews, go to Israel,' and made a long-nose gesture, a disgraceful antisemitic sign. People standing there were shocked. Two American tourists who saw this decided to pay just to get away."

How did local police respond to the incident? 

“We filed a complaint about the assault— a civil servant acted violently and antisemitically toward us. But to our astonishment, the police, although eventually admitting it was a scam and there was no issue with our ticket, refused to take any action against them," she said.

Feeling as though the police were unsupportive, Hayardeni reached out to the local Jewish community for support and advocacy. A representative from the community met the pair at the police station.

“[The police] were disgusting, they sat us in a hallway for eight hours, did not even offer us a glass of water. Not far from us sat the conductors. Two women who were physically and antisemitically attacked were seated next to their attackers without handcuffs and without supervision,” Hayardeni said distraught.

We were in shock. Then they started stalling us. It was clear they wanted us to drop the complaint. They were dragging their feet. It took forever."

“We were essentially detained at the station because, according to the procedure, the complainant must remain on-site as long as the suspects are being investigated,” she added.

“What's astonishing is that the two conductors declined to cooperate with the investigators and were seen leaving the station without any consequences. When we inquired whether we should pay the fine, the police chief dismissed it as a scam and assured us that no payment was necessary. Despite expressing that I felt uncomfortable both as a tourist and a Jew, and that I had no intention of returning to Budapest, the police chief seemed indifferent to our concerns."

Antisemitism in Hungary

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) carried out a 2019 survey exploring hate crime in Europe. The survey collected responses from 16,395 self-identifying Jews across 12 EU states. 

77% of the self-identifying Jewish respondents in Hungary said that felt antisemitism was a big or fairly big problem in their country. A further 71% said that antisemitism had increased in the 5 years before the data was collected.

53% of respondents said the main antisemitic statements that they were exposed to was the idea that Jews have too much power in Hungary.

40% of the respondents said they had considered emigrating because of the growing fear surrounding antisemitism. This percentage is over 10% greater than Jews in other European countries.