BUDAPEST — Tens of thousands of people attended an anti-Nazi rally in Budapest, Hungary, on Sunday, which was organized by Jewish and civic groups to protest a far-right lawmaker’s call to screen Jews for national security risks.
The rally was unusual in that politicians from both the government and opposition parties shared a stage outside parliament.
Marton Gyongyosi of the far-right Jobbik party said last Monday in the legislature that it was time “to assess… how many people of Jewish origin there are here, and especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who represent a certain national security risk.”
Gyongyosi later apologized to “our Jewish compatriots” for his statement, but added that Hungary needed to be wary of “Zionist Israel and those serving it also from here.”
Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Hungary’s Jewish population is now estimated at 100,000.
Antal Rogan, parliamentary faction leader of the governing Fidesz party, addressed the crowd, which Hungarian media estimated at over 10,000 people.
“I came because in this situation I cannot stay quiet,” Rogan said. “Hungary defends its citizens.”
Rogan said he would take his two sons to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where it is estimated that one-third of the Nazis’ victims were Hungarian.
Some posters held by protesters mocked Gyongyosi by showing him with a Hitler mustache and the crowd chanted “Jobbik, go away!”
Attila Mesterhazy said his opposition Socialist Party would boycott Parliament’s foreign affairs committee as long as Gyongyosi remained its vice chairman. He also called on Prime Minister Viktor Orban to address the issue in Parliament next week.
Jobbik president Gabor Vona, however, said the protest was part of an “artificially induced campaign of lies” — meant to divert attention away from Hungary’s economic problems — and that the groups that took part in the rally wanted to “destroy” Jobbik.
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel branch, told The Times of Israel the rally represents “the most important demonstration since Hungary became a democracy,” and “the biggest blow to the Jobbik party since its inception.”
Zuroff added that he hopes the momentum created by the demonstration will help expedite the prosecution of the suspected WWII war criminal Laszlo Csatary, whose identity was recently exposed with the assistance of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.