NEW YORK – The heads of several major American Jewish groups called on Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday to confront Hungarian officials about the “alarming rise of anti-Semitism in Hungary.”
“Given the growth of hatred against Jews and other minorities (particularly the Roma) in Hungary, we urge you to keep the issue of intolerance and discrimination squarely on the US-Hungarian bilateral agenda,” the organization leaders urged. “We also encourage you to raise the matter personally in your direct dealings with Hungarian officials.”
The letter was addressed to Kerry and Ambassador Michael Kozak, the State Department’s acting special envoy on anti-Semitism.
The Jewish leaders commended the US State Department for its 2012 Human Rights Report that “identified a number of troubling developments” impacting the 100,000-strong Hungarian Jewish community, the largest in central Europe.
These developments included “the rise of the xenophobic and anti-Semitic Jobbik party, which has called for the creation of a list of Jewish public officials, repeated the historic ‘blood libel’ against Jews, and labeled Jews a ‘national security risk.’”
Jobbik is not a member of the current ruling government in Hungary, but holds 47 seats in the National Assembly, the country’s unicameral 386-seat parliament.
The leaders also noted an “increase in violence against Jewish individuals and institutions”; the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and Holocaust memorials; “the proliferation of anti-Semitic materials in the media, on the Internet, and in the streets”; and “the attempted rehabilitation and glorification of World War II-era figures, who were openly anti-Semitic and pro-fascist.”
The letter was signed by the heads of a broad spectrum of US Jewish religious and political groups, including, among others, Rabbi David Zwiebel of the Orthodox umbrella group Agudath Israel, Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of the Conservative rabbis’ group Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington. They were joined by the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the World Jewish Congress, the women’s group Hadassah, and the heads of umbrella bodies, including Jerry Silverman of the Jewish Federations of North America and Rabbi Steve Gutow of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
The letter noted Kerry’s promise at the time of the publication of the State Department human rights report that the US would engage “governments at the highest levels and [push] them to live up to their obligations to do right by their people.”
The letter comes just two days after the leadership of the Hungarian Jewish community’s umbrella federation, the Mazsihisz, resigned over accusations that local Jewish leaders had failed to challenge the country’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s statements on anti-Semitism at a World Jewish Congress confab a week earlier.
Dr. Peter Feldmajer, president of the Mazsihisz since 1991, quit Sunday, together with other communal leaders, following a no-confidence motion and several hours of fierce debate at the annual meeting of the group at the Budapest Jewish community headquarters.
Feldmajer was blamed for being too soft on Orban, who condemned anti-Semitism in Hungary in a speech to WJC, but who, critics said, did not go far enough in condemning the far-right Jobbik party in his own government.
An ADL poll in 2012 found that 63% of Hungary’s population held negative views of Jews, compared to 47% in 2009.