BUDAPEST — Hungary’s largest Jewish organization has condemned “incitement” against its leader after he was depicted on the cover of a prominent pro-government weekly surrounded by banknotes.
The image of Andras Heisler, head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), on the front cover of the pro-government magazine “revives centuries-old stereotypes against our community,” the group said in a statement.
“The appearance on a front cover of such incitement against a religious leader — without any factual basis — is unprecedented” since Hungary’s transition to democracy in 1990, it added.
The Figyelo magazine accused Heisler and Mazsihisz of accounting irregularities in connection with a state-funded synagogue renovation project in Budapest, allegations that Mazsihisz denies.
The row comes as the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has itself previously faced accusations of using anti-Semitic tropes and imagery in its virulent campaigns against liberal US billionaire George Soros — claims it denies.
Israel’s ambassador to Hungary said on Facebook that he had called Heisler, also a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, to express his “dismay and shock” over the magazine cover.
The Canadian ambassador said in a tweet she had also called Heisler to convey solidarity “in light of the despicable cover.”
Up until this week Figyelo magazine was owned by prominent pro-government historian Maria Schmidt, who has been involved in a row with Mazsihisz for its refusal to back a new Holocaust museum proposed by the government and supported by another, smaller Jewish organization.
Earlier this year Figyelo published a list of some 200 civil society workers, academics and journalists it said were in the pay of Soros.
Orban backed the publication of the list, saying it promoted “transparency.”
The latest row comes just a day after the government pledged to spend 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million) every year on various projects to combat anti-Semitism in Hungary and elsewhere in Europe.
According to a Europe-wide poll of anti-Semitic attitudes commissioned by broadcaster CNN and published earlier this week, 42 percent of Hungarians think Jews have too much influence in finance and business across the world and 19 percent admit to having an unfavorable opinion of Jews.
However, according to the World Jewish Congress, Hungary’s Jewish community — Central Europe’s largest — faces only “occasional anti-Semitic incidents” and has “every facility” to express its heritage and religious life.