By PABLO GORONDI
Lawmakers wore yellow stars and hundreds of protesters rallied on Tuesday to condemn a far-right politician who called for the screening of Jews for national security risks, part of a wave of incendiary racist comments from a populist party.
Marton Gyongyosi, a Jobbik party deputy, on Monday criticized Hungary’s foreign ministry for what he said was siding with Israel and said the Middle East conflict presented an opportunity to carry out his plans for background checks.
The Jobbik party has become the second-largest opposition party in Parliament, capitalizing on anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiment. Still, the government’s majority has given Jobbik little legislative power and the party’s anti-Semitic statements are usually reserved for their political rallies and publications. Such direct comments are rarely heard inside the legislature.
Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, including around a third of the victims who died at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Hungary’s Jewish population is estimated at 100,000 today, and while physical attacks are rare, an elderly rabbi was insulted recently near his home and Jewish and Holocaust memorials have been vandalized.
Members of a Jewish organization handed over 386 yellow stars like those Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis to parliamentary officials, one for every deputy in the Hungarian legislature. Hundreds of protesters attended an anti-Jobbik rally outside Parliament promoted on social media.
Gusztav Zoltai, a Holocaust survivor and one of the leaders of Hungary’s Jewish community, said he was disappointed about the lack of immediate reaction to Gyongyosi’s statements from other politicians present at the time, but was heartened by the crowd attending the rally.
Parliamentary Speaker Laszlo Kover announced plans to change parliamentary rules and allow sanctions against deputies for statements or acts similar to Gyongyosi’s.
Gyongyosi made a qualified apology for his statements Tuesday, saying his call to screen Jews was directed only at dual Hungarian-Israeli citizens.
International Jewish organizations also issued strong rebukes, comparing Gyongyosi’s words to those of the Nazis.