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PM Orbán’s speech at the World Jewish Congress

May 8th, 2013

A left-wing columnist finds PM Orbán’s speech at the World Jewish Congress too timid. He believes while the PM condemns anti-Semitism, at the same time he is trying to secure the support of far-right voters by reviving the cult of the anti-Semitic interwar era.

Addressing the World Jewish Congress (WJC) organized in Budapest (see BudaPost May 7 and May 6) Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called for cooperation against anti-Semitic hatred. Racism is mounting throughout Europe as a result of the financial crisis, he said, and suggested that national and religious identities and pride should be strengthened in order to fight prejudice. The PM added that the protection of minorities is enshrined in the new Hungarian Fundamental Law and the public display of symbols related to past totalitarian dictatorships is banned. He recalled that his previous government (1998-2002) introduced the Holocaust Memorial Day in schools, while since he was reelected three years ago, the radical paramilitary Hungarian Guard has been banned. He also mentioned the recent celebrations to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the last months of the Second World War. “The government considers it as a moral duty to stand up for zero tolerance against anti-Semitism,” the PM said.

The World Jewish Congress in a statement welcomed PM Orbán’s condemnation of anti-Semitism, but found it regrettable that he “has not drawn a clear line between his government and the far-right.” WJC Vice-President Charlotte Knobloch said PM Orbán had not made it clear how he intended to fight racism and had not mentioned the far-right Jobbik party.

Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, who has harshly criticized the Hungarian government for what she considers violations of democratic standards in legislation (see BudaPost, April 23, 2012), wrote that she was “delighted to hear that Viktor Orbán firmly stands up against anti-Semitism,” and “hoped that the PM’s words will be followed by action.”

The PM’s speech was also welcomed by Péter Feldmajer, head of Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Faith Communities, who remarked in a radio talk show that in a recent interview to Yedioth Ahronoth PM Orbán had clearly distanced his government from the far-right Jobbik by saying that he would never enter into a coalition government with Jobbik. In his closing address on Tuesday, Ronald S. Lauder, the President of the World Jewish Congress read out long passages from the PM’s interview with Yediot Ahronot and said that if he had been aware of that interview, the Congress would not have expressed dissatisfaction with Mr Orbán’s speech on Sunday.

Shlomo Köves, executive rabbi of EMIH Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation found it disappointing that the WJC  had missed the opportunity to come up with constructive policy recommendations to fight anti-Semitism. He added that some of the leaders of the WJC have little knowledge about Hungary and think that Jobbik is part of the governing coalition. Köves suggested that alarmism can be counterproductive in the battle against racism. He said one should not “mistake the alleged democratic deficit” of the Hungarian government for anti-Semitism. Köves added that while anti-Semitic discourse is widespread in Hungary, anti-Semitic violence is less a problem than in many Western European states.

In Népszabadság, László Szőcs compares PM Orbán’s and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s speeches. The left-wing columnist contends that Westerwelle sent a clearer message by emphasizing the importance of democratic institutions and the rule of law in uprooting racist prejudice. Szőcs suggests that by trying to restore the rhetoric and symbols of the interwar Horthy era, the Orbán government plays into the hands of the radical far-right. He believes that the reason for the mixed reception of Orbán’s speech is that the Hungarian PM again tried to “find a golden midpoint,” between Jobbik’s racism and the Jews, by condemning anti-Semitism in general but not explicitly distancing itself from the far-right party.

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