ADL: Anti-Semitism rising in Hungary

There are an estimated 60,000 Jews in Hungary, the bulk of whom are located in Budapest.

swastika 298.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
swastika 298.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
Jews living in Hungary do not seem to be extremely concerned about recent anti-Semitic acts, even though officials and Jewish organizations are. Following the brutal beating of a Jewish man in Budapest recently, the New York-based Anti-Defamation League asked the Hungarian government to launch a thorough investigation. It also called on the government to initiate steps to eliminate the anti-Semitic feeling that pervades Hungarian society and its law enforcement services. The impetus for this request was the vicious assault of a young kashrut supervisor on June 30. He was on his way home when three men, who had followed him, began to beat him while yelling anti-Semitic comments. Members of Budapest's Jewish community said the assailants confronted the victim in an apartment building and asked if he was Jewish. As they beat him, they allegedly shouted, "You should go back to Auschwitz, you stinky Jews!" The assault is one of the latest in a spate of recent anti-Semitic incidents in Europe, and Hungary in particular, where Jewish leaders are concerned that anti-Semitic sentiments in the country are on the rise. "The highest political echelons need to reinforce the message of zero tolerance for anti-Semitism and bigotry, and of full assurance of civil rights for all of Hungary's citizens," Glen S. Lewy, ADL national chairman, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, said on Sunday. But many living in Hungary are not as troubled. "It's worrisome," said Michael Miller, an American professor of nationalism and Jewish studies at the Central European University who has been living in Budapest for nine years. "But it's not a place where I'm afraid to be a Jew." There are an estimated 60,000 Jews in Hungary, the bulk of whom are located in Budapest. They make up about 5 percent of Budapest's population. Atilla Novak, a former head of the Zionist Federation of Hungary, said anti-Semitism in Hungary is not more prevalent nowadays, rather, it is more apparent. He attributed this to political reasons, mainly the rising popularity of Hungary's far-right extremist party, Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary. "It's very sad when a Jew is attacked because he is a Jew," Novak said. "It's a very sad story, but I wasn't so anxious." Novak said Jewish American tourists are not attacked, and the Chabad is flourishing. Also, there have been relatively few synagogue attacks and vandalism of cemeteries, said Miller. "Up until now it's been basically rhetorical anti-Semitic, but it hasn't been violent," he said, adding that physical aggression in the country is usually directed at gypsies and homosexuals. "But I've been very much aware that there's been an increase in anti-Semitic discourse," he said. A few months ago, Israeli Ambassador Aliza Bin-Noun told the MTI Hungarian News Agency that anti-Semitism in the country is on the rise. Bin-Noun could not be reached for comment about the most recent incident. In a letter to Hungarian Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai, the ADL pressed him to make sure that the investigation into the assault is "effective, comprehensive, and instills trust within Hungary's Jewish community." No arrests have been made in the case. Bajnai has already told Hungarian Justice Minister Tibor Draskovics to look into the June 30 beating and to propose measures to prevent future attacks of this nature. This is not the first time in recent months that the ADL has contacted Bajnai about anti-Semitism in Hungary. Last month, the ADL wrote to him about indications of an increase in anti-Semitism within the TMRSZ police trade union. The TMRSZ's newsletter said anti-Semitism is "the duty of every Hungarian patriot." "I hear a lot of Jews saying the situation has deteriorated recently," said Eran El-Bar, the Jewish Agency representative in Budapest. "But life here is rich, and the situation is still one that most of the Jews can live pleasantly." But, El-Bar pointed out, most of Budapest's Jews are assimilated. "The situation is not dire because the level of Jewish observance is not too stringent," he explained. In the meantime, Hungary's Jews will probably continue to live as usual, perhaps exercising a bit more vigilance in public, said El-Bar. "I don't know of many Jews who feel physically threatened," said Miller. "This incident on Thursday night may be indicative of a change. I hope not."