Ultra-nationalist Jobbik party's gains worry Hungarian Jews

But Hebrew U. expert says Hungarian Jews have a strong Hungarian self-identity which seems very rarely to be affected.

Far-right Jobbik party rally370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Far-right Jobbik party rally370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The ultra-nationalist Jobbik faction cemented its place as Hungary’s third largest party during parliamentary elections on Sunday, worrying the country’s local Jewish community.
Jobbik, which burst onto the national stage in 2010 when it garnered 16.67 percent of ballots cast, this time received 21 percent of the vote. With over one of five Hungarians voting for the party, it has shown critics that it is more than a one-hit wonder.
“We did not manage to achieve the breakthrough in individual mandates that we wished for, [but] we achieved over 20 percent, which not many people would have believed,” party leader Gabor Vona told a news conference.
“Jobbik continuously...increases its popularity... And ahead of the European Parliament elections it is important to make clear that today in the EU Jobbik is the strongest national radical party,” he added.
While Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed that the two thirds majority his ruling conservative Fidesz party obtained in the election shows that Hungarians “have said no to hatred,” Jewish groups have emphatically expressed their worries over Jobbik’s continued rise.
“The result of Jobbik is very concerning,” Andras Heisler, President of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), told the Jerusalem Post.
While he is concerned, Heisler also indicated that he sees Fidesz’s supermajority as a hedge against Jobbik implementing its agenda. While Jobbik is now the “strongest radical party in Europe,” he explained, Orban has enough mandates that he “will not need [their] help.”
However, increases in the overall rate antisemitic expression in Hungary can be traced back to the rise of Jobbik, Rabbi Shlomo Koves of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation.
Citing a recent report by Andras Kovacs of the Central European University, Koves explained that “there are extreme anti-Semites even among the voters of mainstream parties” including Fidesz.
“By becoming a major political player in parliament managed to raise the level of hate in overall society,” he asserted.
According to anti-Semitism researcher Robert Wistrich of the Hebrew University, Heisler’s assurance that Fidesz will prevent Jobbik from implementing its agenda may be misplaced.
“When a far Right party crosses the 20% threshold that means they are a serious political force,” he said. Given the level of discontent in Hungary, Wistrich continued, it may prove impossible to prevent Jobbik from playing a more prominent legislative role if life does not improve for the average voter.
“There is a certain momentum [here] so I don’t see any silver lining in the results,” he said.
Moreover, Wistrich contended, fear of Jobbik’s rise has lead Fidesz to attempt to portray itself as “a champion of the popular national interest and that evidently in Hungary includes a certain flirtation with anti-Semitic rhetoric even if it’s disguised.”
While the Orban government has enacted a number of stringent rules regarding the criminalization of hate speech, Jewish leaders including Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress have castigated the premier, stating that actions speak louder than words.
Among 50 cases of hate speech reported to authorities recently, only 20 have resulted in charges being pressed and only two cases have resulted in “a legally binding ruling,” the Jewish community’s TEV-Action and Protection Foundation announced during a press conference in Budapest recently.
“Jobbik’s success at the elections is unquestionably the proof of the failure of a non-cooperative attitude of the Hungarian presentable political parties,” TEV’s Daniel Bodnar told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
“This principle should have been applied by the major Hungarian political parties: banning, isolating, and quarantining the message of hatred is a goal above everything. The success of extremism in Europe in general is a common failure of many European comme-ilfaut political parties.”
The Orban government and the Mazsihisz are expected to hold talks sometime in the coming days over the issue of the communal body’s boycott of the government’s 2014 Holocaust Memorial year. Local Jews have alleged that Hungarians have not done enough to acknowledge their role in the genocide.
Despite several high profile apologies for the Holocaust, both Wistrich and the Mazsihisz assert that the government has engaged in historical revisionism in its portrayal of the genocide of the country’s Jewish community.
Both Koves and Bodnar asserted that increased engagement between Jews and ethnic Hungarians and improvements in the educational system will be necessary to push back against the growth of anti-Semitism.
According to the Kovacs report cited by Koves, one in five Hungarians can be classed as an “extreme anti-Semite.”
“The largest ground for anti-Semitism is ignorance and we have to do as much as we can to try to influence the education [here],” Koves said. “The Jewish community has to be as open as possible.”
“Both the Jewish community as well as the benevolent democratic majority has to draw the lines even more articulately in the future. The consensual standards of the acceptable and non-acceptable language has to be established within the framework of liberal democracy,” Bodnar said.
Wistrich, however, was less positive in his assessment of the future of Hungarian Jewry.
The Jews, he said, have a very “assimilationist” attitude and a strong Hungarian self-identity “which seems very rarely to be dented of affected even by the most devastating tragedies.”
Extrapolating from the success of far right parties such as Jobbik, Svoboda in Ukraine, the National Front in France, and Golden Dawn in Greece, Wistrich said he believes that the the nationalist Right would make significant gains in upcoming elections for the European Parliament.
“The Jews in Europe do not have a future…I think that their future is bleak,” he prognosticated.
Reuters contributed to this report.