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Repercussions of PM Orbán’s speech at the World Jewish Congress

May 13th, 2013

A conservative columnist fears that the apology of WJC chairman Ronald S. Lauder for his earlier criticism of PM Orbán’s speech will not be as widely reported in the international media as the original communique blaming Orbán for not being specific enough in distancing his party from the anti-Semitic far-right. A left-wing columnist, on the other hand, criticizes PM Orbán’s labelling of the Jews as a minority.

In Magyar Nemzet, Péter Csermely accuses Ronald S. Lauder, the President of the World Jewish Congress of applying double standards against PM Orbán. The conservative columnist recalls that Mr Lauder never criticized former PM Gyurcsány for the rising popularity of the far-right Jobbik party or the racist murders targeting the Roma during his term, while he was highly critical of PM Orbán’s speech, despite the fact that the Hungarian Prime Minister announced zero tolerance against anti-Semitism. As for Mr Lauder’s subsequent apology to PM Orbán (see BudaPost May 8), Csermely hopes that the retraction of Mr Lauder’s words will receive as wide coverage in the foreign media as the original statement. According to a survey published by the conservative Nézőpont Institute, Mr Lauder’s initial criticism of PM Orbán has been reported by 42 foreign media outlets, while his later apology was only covered by 7. By Thursday, there were 18 articles in the German press about the WJC president’s concerns, but only a single report in an online magazine on his apologies.

Those who claim that Hungarian Jewry is a minority are either completely ignorant or anti-Semitic,” László Márton writes in Népszava. According to the well-known writer, the tendency of PM Orbán and other right-wing politicians to categorize Jews as a minority that needs to be protected by Hungarians, “cannot but be seen as the product of a lighter version of anti-Semitism.” (Of the approximately 100 thousand Hungarians of Jewish descent, only about 10-12 thousand are practising believers, and their leaders are proud of Hungary as “the home of the largest Jewish community in the region.” They have foiled attempts by a small group which wanted Jewry to be listed among the officially recognised national and ethnic minorities. There are also signs of a gradual revival of Jewish identity. Jewish cultural centres and events attract more visitors than in past decades.) Márton writes on behalf of the secular majority. Hungarian Jewry, he argues, has since the mid-19th century become Hungarian both culturally and linguistically, and thus Jewishness should not be described as a separate non-Hungarian identity. In an aside, Márton notes that anti-Semitic speech needs to be fought not only to protect Jews, but also to restore the country’s international image, which has been shattered by the bad press it has received for recent incidents of anti-Semitism.

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