Hungarian PM’s adviser to visit Jerusalem

Zsigmond Perényi to discuss recent anti-Semitism in his country with Foreign Ministry officials.

Far-right Jobbik party rally370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Far-right Jobbik party rally370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hungarian senior prime ministerial adviser Zsigmond Perényi is set to arrive in Israel in late May for a series of meetings with Foreign Ministry officials on the issue of anti-Semitism in his country, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
At 100,000 members, Hungary has the largest Jewish community in Central Europe, and local Jews are worried over the rise of the far-right Jobbik party, now the third largest in parliament. The World Jewish Congress called on Hungary to outlaw Jobbik during its 14th plenary assembly in Budapest last week.
In 2011, according to anti- Semitism researcher Andras Kovacs of the Central European University, 24 percent of Hungarians “emotionally reject[ed] Jews,” up from the 10-15% that “held a strong anti-Semitic prejudice” following the fall of communism.
In a recent paper, Kovacs asserted that as of 2011, 21% of Hungarians agreed that “Jewish intellectuals control the press and cultural sphere.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, 63% of Hungarians “subscribe to traditional stereotypes or other negative attitudes toward Jews.”
Perényi is to be joined by deputy state secretaries Péter Mikecz and Dávid Héjja. He will meet with the Foreign Ministry’s Rafi Schutz, deputy director-general for Europe; Rafi Gamzu, who heads the Cultural and Scientific Relations Division; and Gideon Behar, the director of the Department for Combating Anti-Semitism.
The visit is intended to “inform [our] Israeli partners about the measures taken against anti-Semitism by the Hungarian government” and to “introduce the Holocaust Remembrance Year’s program for 2014,” Hungarian Ambassador Zoltán Szentgyörgyi informed the Post in an email.
The visit is also aimed at “identify[ing] partners in Israel” who can help the Hungarian authorities better combat racism.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschson told the Post that Israel welcomes the delegation and that the two governments are involved in “ongoing negotiations” on the issue of anti-Semitism.
“Israel expects that Hungary will take significant measures to reduce incidents of anti- Semitism,” Hirschson said.
On Tuesday, 14 American- Jewish organizations sent an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry urging him to “keep the issue of intolerance and discrimination squarely on the US-Hungarian bilateral agenda, especially given the growth of hatred against Jews and other minorities.”
“During the Nazi occupation of Hungary, more than 500,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered,” the letter read.
“Seventy years later, new signs of old hate are appearing in the country. The United States has a moral obligation and opportunity to combat anti-Semitism in Hungary before today’s generation relives any more of the horrors that tormented their parents and grandparents.”
The organizations, which included the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Federations of North America among others, complained of both the “increase in violence against Jewish individuals and institutions... [the] proliferation of anti-Semitic materials in the media [and] attempted rehabilitation and glorification of World War II-era figures, who were openly anti-Semitic and pro-fascist.”
The Jewish leaders urged Kerry to “raise the matter [of anti-Semitism] personally in your direct dealings with Hungarian officials.”
Robin Shepherd, author of a study for the World Jewish Congress on neo-Nazi parties in Europe, told WJC delegates in Budapest last week that the ruling Fidesz party was not anti-Semitic but that it competed with Jobbik for votes among nationalists frustrated by the economic crisis and resentful of foreign influence in Hungary.
“If Orbán goes too hard against Jobbik, he’s worried he won’t be able to scoop up Jobbik’s voters,” Shepherd said.
In an interview with the Post earlier this week, Gusztav Zoltai, executive director of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary (Mazsihisz), said that for the most part “so far no judgments [have] been passed” against those involved in anti-Semitic incidents.
Zoltai took over temporary leadership of the Hungarian Jewish community in the wake of Mazsihisz president Peter Feldmajer’s resignation on Sunday. A new president will be chosen on June 27.
Despite complaining of what he termed “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel manifestations” in Hungary, some of which involved prominent political and social leaders, Zoltai told the Post that he does not hold the central government responsible for the erection of several controversial statues of World War II-era strongman and Nazi collaborator Miklós Horthy that many Jews see as provoking further anti-Semitism.
The responsibility for the statues, he said, did not lay with “the Hungarian government but local administrations. No governments since the political changes [end of communism] has been anti- Semitic.”
The government, while itself not fomenting anti-Semitic policies, has not done enough to curb anti-Semitism, Zoltai said.
“We previously have reproached the government that it does not enough in order to put clear lines toward anti-Semitic manifestations. In the recent period, verbal [condemnations] have occurred but not every case is followed by actions,” he said.
Zoltai is hopeful that the State of Israel will help in combating anti-Semitism in his country, saying that “Hungarian Jewry is not afraid, knowing that the State of Israel and world Jewry are behind us.”
Regarding his predecessor, Zoltai said that Feldmajer had been making progress on issues of anti-Semitism and that “problems came up only on his leading style.”