Orbán’s fight against antisemitism - an official Hungarian response

Hungarian official defends Budapest against accusations of antisemitism.

HUNGARY’S PRIME Minister Viktor Orban arrives for a Visegrad Group meeting in Brussels.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
HUNGARY’S PRIME Minister Viktor Orban arrives for a Visegrad Group meeting in Brussels.
(photo credit: REUTERS)

It’s an election year in Hungary. Voters will go to the polls on Sunday, April 3, to elect a new National Assembly.

Naturally, that means that we’ll be reading more than the usual about Hungary in the press, and, as we know from experience, the criticism will inevitably include accusations of antisemitism. The charges, however, are poorly informed and reflect deep-seated bias. They’re also likely politically motivated, but more on that in a moment.

A recent opinion article published in the Jerusalem Post, for example, claimed that the government of Hungary has used its support to Israel as a “cover-up” for antisemitism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Clearly, we think differently about what it means to be pro-Israel and what it means to stand up to anti-Semitism. In our thinking, words must be backed by deeds.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses COVID-19 vaccine cooperation withHungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses COVID-19 vaccine cooperation withHungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš (credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

Let’s start with combatting antisemitism. The simple fact remains that the governments led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán have done more than any other to oppose this kind of hateful prejudice and to provide meaningful support to Hungary’s Jewish community. Here are a few examples: 

In 2012, the Fidesz-led parliament promulgated the Fundamental Law, our new constitution, recognizing Hungarian Jewry as an inseparable part of the Hungarian nation.

It was the first Orbán Government, in 2001, that established the Holocaust Museum along with the national Day of Remembrance for victims of the Hungarian Holocaust. We introduced Holocaust education in the national curriculum and raised the pensions of Holocaust survivors.

The current government also passed some of the most far-reaching provisions in Europe to punish Holocaust denial, hate speech and the display of hate symbols. The prime minister established a zero-tolerance policy on anti-Semitism and effectively banned paramilitary groups that were intimidating Jewish and Roma citizens. In face of the growing trend to ban Kosher slaughter in Europe, Hungary stood alone in raising its voice for the protection of religious freedom and practices inseparable from the future of Jewish life on the continent.

We devoted resources to the reconstruction of synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and built the first new synagogue in Budapest in 80 years, among others, as part of a major Jewish institution development. In this climate, several have spoken of a “renaissance” of Jewish life in Hungary.

Prime Minister Orbán was the first Hungarian prime minister to publicly acknowledge Hungary’s culpability in the Holocaust, saying that Hungary sinned when we failed to protect our Jewish citizens.

When it comes to support for Israel, again, our government’s proclamations are backed by action. Under PM Orbán’s leadership, Hungary stands among the staunchest supporters of Israel’s sovereignty and independence in international bodies like the European Union and the United Nations.

The author who claimed that Hungary is using support for Israel to cover up Antisemitism indeed has different ideas. Because when she refers to this ugly prejudice, she’s in fact referring to criticism of George Soros. One does not equal the other.

It’s strange that it’s in opinions like this that we read about George Soros’ Jewish origins. Why is that?

Prime Minister Orbán and his governments never refer to his Jewish roots. Interestingly, Soros himself talks little about it, emphasizing instead his American identity. The Soros apologists play the Jewish card in an effort to smear those who dare to oppose Soros’ pro-immigration, radical open society agenda. It’s a tired, empty argument that intentionally ignores – or attempts to distract from – the real issue at stake.

And that real issue is respect for the will of the people. The Soros apologists like to refer to him as a philanthropist who gives away a lot of money, but they consistently ignore that Soros, by his own very frank admission, is a political actor with a radical, political agenda. “We are actively engaged with everyone, particularly in my native Hungary,” said Soros in an interview, “where our approach is in direct opposition to the one advocated by the current prime minister, Viktor Orban”.

The man is entitled to his own views, but he and the network of NGOs that depend on his funding have no democratic legitimacy to push his ideologically driven agenda in Hungary, especially when it concerns big, national security issues like immigration.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been such an outspoken critic and staunch opponent of George Soros because Soros and his network have moved aggressively into the political arena to push an open-borders, pro-immigration agenda that is grossly at odds with the will of Hungarian citizens.

And for the record, there were never any government-funded posters calling for the “extinction of Soros and the powers he symbolizes”. That’s simply false.

What I find curious about this whole argument about antisemitism in Hungary is the deafening silence in the international media about the unified opposition’s alliance with Jobbik, a far-right, antisemitic party, and the coalition’s candidate for prime minister. 

I’ve written a number of times about Jobbik’s roots and the troubling actions of its leadership. It’s no laughing matter. Meanwhile, the opposition’s candidate for prime minister posted a video to his Facebook page last week in which he casually discusses the number of Jews in Fidesz, the governing party. He has backed some of the most notorious candidates of far right Jobbik.

Jewish organizations in Hungary have spoken up. I suppose that the media and international, Jewish organizations, properly apprised of the facts, would also report on the matter and express concern. 

I wonder why they haven’t, but perhaps it’s because there’s another agenda at play here. After all, it’s an election year in Hungary.

Zoltán Kovács is the Hungarian Secretary of State for International Communication and international spokesman of the Hungarian government.