WJC pans Hungary PM for falling short against anti-Semitism

Viktor Orban calls for zero tolerance of anti-Jewish hatred, but World Jewish Congress says actions speak louder than words

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (photo credit: screen capture/WJC)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (photo credit: screen capture/WJC)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Prime Minister Viktor Orban did not go far enough in condemning the anti-Semitism that has reared its head in Hungary, the World Jewish Congress said Sunday, hours after Orban called for zero-tolerance of anti-Jewish activity at the opening address of the group’s annual meeting in Budapest.

Orban spoke of his government’s efforts to protect Jewish rights and Hungary’s role in stopping anti-Semitism, on the heels of a march by far-rightists to protest the meeting the day before.

“We welcome that the prime minister made it clear that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and intolerable,” a WJC spokesperson said. “However, the prime minister did not confront the true nature of the problem: the threat posed by the anti-Semites in general and by the extreme-right Jobbik party in particular. We regret that Mr. Orban did not address any recent anti-Semitic or racist incidents in the country, nor did he provide sufficient reassurance that a clear line has been drawn between his government and the far-right fringe.”

On Saturday, hundreds of people wearing black leather and bearing swastikas marched near the Jewish delegates gathered in Budapest, the first day of the WJC assembly. They held signs reading “Jews bought Hungary” and “We’re the real Hungarians.”

The WJC is this year holding its annual assembly outside of Israel for the first time, in a show of support to Hungarian Jewry, which suffered dozens of anti-Semitic attacks in 2012.

Speaking to the roughly 600 delegates and observers, Orban said many had come from places where anti-Semitism was a real threat, but that was not the case in Hungary.

“I ask you to help us prevent it from happening,” he said. “Anti-Semitism is not a natural disaster, but the work of men.”

Before his speech, French students distributed flyers calling on delegates to refrain from clapping for Orban, who, they said, had allowed anti-Semitic authors to be included in the Hungarian school curriculum.

The WJC responded to the speech by saying that Orban’s policies did not match up with his statements.

“As the Jewish people have learned throughout history: Actions speak louder than words, no matter how well intended they are,” the spokesperson said.

Earlier, the president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald Lauder, defended Hungary by saying that “its good name was not smeared by the foreign press, but by extremists.” There was one party, gaining increased power, which was hurting the country, he stated, referring to the extreme right-wing Jobbik party.

The Jobbik party, which holds some 12 percent of the seats in parliament, openly calls for legislation against Jews, Gypsies and other ethnic minorities; it has pushed to create a list of Jews in positions of power, claiming they’re a potential threat to the country; Swastikas and other Nazi symbols can be found at its gatherings, and it has a semi-official military wing, which — despite being outlawed — continues to exist.

“Intolerance cannot be tolerated,” Lauder stated. While Jews, Gypsies and other foreigners are the first to be targeted by extremists, they are never the only ones hurt. “All good people suffer, countries suffer.”

“Rising anti-Semitism in Europe should concern all of us,” and the Jews in Hungary are facing threats that are “ringing alarm bells around the world and especially in Israel,” Israeli Minister Silvan Shalom told the congress, which he called  “an impressive show of unity.”

The punishment for anti-Semitism needs to be harsher, education against anti-Semitism needs to be more prominent, and the entire government needs to speak out against the Jobbik party and other extremists, Shalom said.

Praising the cooperation between Israel and Hungary, Shalom said, “The relations between the two countries need to continue and flourish, and not disappear — which is what the Jobbik party wishes to see.”

Orban said Hungary’s new constitution provided security and rights to the Jews and all other minorities in the country. He said the government “felt it was its moral obligation to implement a memorial day in school for victims of the Holocaust” and to hear the mourners pray in the same parliament where anti-Jewish laws were legislated in the past.

“Jews and non-Jews alike benefit the most if we stand together,” Orban said. There is “hope that our children may live in an era in which anti-Semitism is just as inconceivable as in the past generations, in which the world suffered from the plague.”

Not only in Hungary, but also in Greece, Austria and other European countries, Orban said, “there are those who hate Jews,” and extreme Islamists want “to wipe Israel off the face of the planet.” He said the establishment of the WJC was to help the Jews, a job it still does today, and through which it strengthens Israel.

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