Anti-Semitism in Hungary Despite Jewish Optimism

Nascent anti-Semitism is alive and well in Hungary, where 500,000 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. The Jobbik party, which is the third largest party in the Hungarian parliament, has openly used anti-Semitic slurs in its campaigns, and the leader of its foreign policy cabinet, Marton Gyongyosi, called last week for a list of the Jewish members of the Hungarian government and parliament, claiming it was to protect national security:

I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.

But Janos Fonagy, the state secretary of the Development Ministry, stepped up to the plate. He asserted, "My mother and father were Jewish, and so am I, whether you like it or not. I cannot choose, I was born into this. “Speaking to the Jobbik party and its supporters, he said, “But you can choose, and you have chosen this path. Bear history's judgement."

Condemnation of Gyongyosi’s remarks came from the Hungarian government as well as the U.S. Embassy. There have been Jewish cemeteries defaced in Budapest.

But Jews in Hungary are no longer terrified of claiming their heritage; the Jewish Summer Festival, originated in 1998 in Budapest, had 3000 people attend that year, but that grew to 120,000 this year. Its director, Vera Vadas, said, "Even 15 years ago, using 'Jewish' as a brand required quite some bravery. Now the word just describes our culture and it draws artists and audiences alike." Places of Jewish identity abound, such as synagogues, schools, restaurants and museums.

Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti, who leads a small synagogue in southwestern Budapest, was proud of the Jewish community’s attempt at rebirth:

My parents' generation, the one born immediately after the war, was protected so much they never got to experience their Jewishness. They assimilated almost completely. Now, my children take their Jewishness naturally, they have no doubts about their roots. They are kids who live in Hungary, speak Hungarian and follow the Jewish faith. The vast majority of young Jewish parents can and do choose this tradition.

Although there was a rally on December 2 where Hungarian leaders denounced Jobbik’s politics, there is cause for concern about the future; Jobbik is now the strongest party in Hungary with voters under the age of 30. 


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