The Jews of Hungary do not live in fear

Monica Porter says that critics of the Hungarian PM are wide of the mark

November 21, 2018 16:16

Edith Eger is a remarkable woman, 91 years old, an eminent US-based psychologist and a Holocaust survivor. She is also, like me, Hungarian-born. I admire her strength of character and emotional intelligence rooted in her suffering at Auschwitz. She has recently been in the UK and I read an absorbing interview with her in a national newspaper. But I must take issue with Dr Eger on a point she makes towards the end of the long interview.

She expresses concern at seeing “Nazi attitudes” springing up everywhere, by which I guess she means nationalist parties and movements, before giving special mention to Victor Orban’s “very, very antisemitic Hungary”. I don’t know whether the lady ever visits Hungary, but as someone who has friends, work contacts and relatives there, I visit often. And the description of “antisemitic” is not one I recognise, let alone “very, very”.

I know Victor Orban has become the black sheep of the EU for his anti-migrant stance and a hate figure generally for the liberal left. Clearly, Orban has looked around Europe, seen the social and cultural calamities wrought by uncontrolled immigration from Third World countries and thought: no thanks.

He has huge popular support in Hungary and a robust majority in Parliament, so it isn’t as if he’s undemocratically laying down the law on this. Hungarians relish national freedom and independence. They have long memories. So much of their history has been spent under one miserable foreign occupation or another. Naturally they rebel (just as, apparently, the UK does) against an EU overlord dictating immigration terms.

Neither Orban’s nor the Hungarian nation’s perceived prejudice against “the other” is directed against Jews. Au contraire. There are an estimated 50,000 Jews in Hungary today, mostly in Budapest. It is a thriving community, its centrepiece being the magnificent Dohany Street Great Synagogue, the second largest in the world. It sits at the edge of the city’s old Jewish quarter, a trendy sector abuzz with kosher bakeries, cafés and restaurants.

Every summer there is a Jewish street festival, the Judafest, and the Budapest Jewish Film Festival takes place each November. I was in Budapest one September and saw a banner along the side of an overpass wishing, in Hungarian, “our Jewish friends a happy Rosh Hashanah”. I don’t recall ever seeing such a banner in London. A devout Christian, Orban has pledged his commitment to the country’s Jewish community.

Hungary’s complicity in the Holocaust is everywhere remembered: from the famous “shoes” memorial along the bank of the Danube, to the statue of the heroic rescuer Raoul Wallenberg, the Holocaust Memorial Centre and the thousands of stolpersteine across the city the concrete cubes with brass plates containing the names and details of Holocaust victims, placed at the entrances of the buildings where they once lived.

This doesn’t add up to a “very, very antisemitic” country, does it? An age-old antisemitic element does undeniably persist, pretty much contained within the ultra-nationalist Jobbik Party. But you can hardly blame Orban and his centre-right Fidesz Party for that.

And while it’s true that Orban loathes the billionaire George Soros for his interference in contentious issues such as open-border immigration and multiculturalism, this antipathy has nothing to do with Soros’s Jewishness. Orban would be just as scathing about Bill Gates, should the Microsoft magnate ever display the same meddling tendencies.

No, to find really worrying antisemitism in Europe you must go elsewhere. For example, France. Jews there feel so unsafe that about 7,000 of them emigrate annually to Israel, America, Canada, Australia. Many Jews no longer wear a kippah in public for fear of abuse, especially in heavily Muslim areas of Paris. It’s the same in migrant-dense parts of Sweden.

Meanwhile here at home, under the influence of a hard left, pro-Palestinian Labour leadership, Jews anyone from university students to MPS are openly hounded by “Zio”-haters of every hue. Each year, hundreds of British Jews up sticks and make aliyah.

So please, Dr Eger et al, don’t wag your finger at Hungary, where kippah-wearing Jews are not attacked on the street and from where they are not fleeing in fear.



November 21, 2018 16:16

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive