A speech at the opening of the World Jewish Congress’s (WJC) plenary assembly in Budapest by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán resulted in the WJC criticising him for failing to directly address what the Congress called the true nature of the problem – the threat posed by anti-Semites in general and Hungary’s extreme-right Jobbik party in particular.
The WJC is holding its assembly in Budapest, rather than in Jerusalem as has been practice for many years, to highlight the problem of anti-Semitism in Hungary.
Ahead of the plenary, Orbán made a failed attempt to prevent an anti-Jewish public protest in Budapest by Jobbik. His order was overturned by a court on May 3 and the following day the rally went ahead, drawing about 1000 supporters, local media said.
Speaking, as had been scheduled, at the May 5 opening of the plenary, Orbán said that anti-Semitism in Hungary was unacceptable “and we will show zero tolerance towards it”.
“We don’t want Hungary to become a country of hate and anti-Semitism and we ask for your help and experience in helping us solve the problem. History taught us that we should act fast and strongly against anti-Semitism whenever it arises. We will do whatever it takes to stop it,” Orbán said.
In a statement after his speech, the WJC said that it appreciated Orbán’s decision to address the international Jewish community by speaking at the event. “We welcome that the Prime Minister made it clear that anti-Semitism is unacceptable and intolerable”
However, the WJC said, Orbán “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. Orbán 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.”
As the Jewish people have learnt throughout history: Actions speak louder than words, no matter how well intended they are, the WJC said.
“The WJC will continue to urge all democratic forces in Hungary and elsewhere to combat with great determination rising extremism, anti-Semitism and hatred. We will continue to evaluate the situation in this regard.”
Separately, in an interview with Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth published on May 5, Orbán rejected claims that Hungary was the “most anti-Semitic country” in the European Union and declared zero tolerance against anti-Semitism.
“It is our obligation to reject the accusation of anti-Semitism and at the same time consider why anti-Semitism is perceived from the outside as a characteristic of Hungary,” Orbán was quoted as saying.
Orban said it was a historical fact that Hungary is the only Eastern European country with an original and large Jewish community, despite a Nazi past. As a result, anti-Semitism in Hungary is not a theoretical issue but a personal one, he said.
On Jobbik, Orbán said that the party was posing a “growing threat” which is rooted in the economic recession in the EU. There exists a European instinct of looking for scapegoats, which is always dangerous, he said.
(Photos: WJC, and Hungarian government)