Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, strongly condemned antisemitism and pledged to honour the memory of Holocaust victims at the World Jewish Congress, which met in Budapest last weekend, but failed to criticise the far-right Jobbik party, the third largest in parliament.
Mr Orban told the delegates: “History has taught the Hungarians that antisemitism must be recognised in time… It is especially important that we make it clear: antisemitism is unacceptable and intolerable.”
The government says that it fully supports the renaissance in Jewish life. Between 80,000 and 100,000 Jews live in Hungary, most in Budapest. The city has numerous functioning synagogues, Jewish schools, cafes and restaurants.
Mr Orban emphasised the government’s commitment to commemorating the Holocaust, when more than 500,000 Hungarian Jews were killed. A new government committee will co-ordinate nationwide events next year, the 70th anniversary of the deportations. “It is with a broken heart that we bow our heads in memory of the victims,” said Mr Orban “but thank God that an authentic Jewish community…managed to survive.”
Mr Orban pointedly compared Hungary to France as a country where, despite the murder of a teacher and three schoolchildren in an antisemitic attack in Toulouse, there was “no consensus” on whether a minute’s silence could be held in state schools.
But there was strong disappointment that Mr Orban failed to single out Jobbik for condemnation and failed to mention any antisemitic incidents.
Ferenc Orosz, the chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg memorial committee, was recently beaten up at a football match after he asked spectators to stop chanting “Mussolini” and “Sieg Heil”.
Jobbik’s strong parliamentary presence has emboldened antisemites, said Tamas Vero, a Budapest rabbi who attended the WJC assembly. “The situation became much worse after Jobbik entered parliament in 2010. People hear members of parliament speaking in this way, so it becomes acceptable to speak like this on the streets.”
A spokesman for the WJC said that Mr Orban “did not confront the true nature of the problem: the threat posed by the antisemites in general and by the extreme right-wing Jobbik party in particular.” The WJC accused Mr Orban of failing to draw “a clear line” between the government and the right-wing fringe.
However, WJC president Ronald Lauder, who was re-elected at the assembly, subsequently apologised for failing to acknowledge Mr Orban’s criticism of Jobbik as “a real danger” in an interview with Ynet, published last Saturday.
Hundreds of Jobbik activists gathered on Saturday in downtown Budapest to protest against the WJC gathering. Marton Gyongyosi, a Jobbik MP and vice-president of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, told the rally: “Our country has become subjugated to Zionism, it has become a target of colonisation while we, the indigenous people, can only play the role extras.”
Mr Orban had ordered the far-right gathering to be banned but a court over-ruled his decision.
Board of Deputies President Vivian Wineman, who led a British delegation to the gathering, commented: “The decision to hold the meeting in Budapest was the right one. But Orban missed his opportunity.”