OPINION: Your report was a betrayal of Hungary’s good work

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OPINION: Your report was a betrayal of Hungary’s good work

In a powerful right of reply, Hungary's UK Ambassador Szalay-Bobrovniczky responds to a Jewish News report about concerns over his country's treatment of its Jewish population.

Kristóf Szalay-Bobrovniczky

Kristóf is Ambassador of Hungary to the Court of St James’s

Viktor Orban showing Benjamin Netanyahu  Budapest
Viktor Orban showing Benjamin Netanyahu Budapest

A recently published article in Jewish News by Jack Mendel (’Board president vows to challenge Hungarian minister in controversial meeting’) drew attention, yet again, to how readily our intention to build relations with the British Jewry are hampered.

While I understand the journalist mainly summarised the interview with Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, nonetheless I must contest parts of the article and especially the overall, one-sided handling of the upcoming visit of the representative of the Hungarian government.

Hungary is a member of the European Union, part of NATO and a strong ally of Israel. Its government has been democratically elected with a two third majority for the third consecutive time.

The Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has a very strong record in fighting antisemitism, is dedicated towards a true and meaningful Holocaust-remembrance policy and supports the Jewish community in Hungary in all its endeavours.

READ MORE – OPINION: Sorry ambassador, Hungary should be judged on what it does not what it says 

I find it therefore utterly incomprehensible and immensely disrespectful that you provide platform to views expressed with deep prejudice and with a complete lack of knowledge of the facts on the ground.

First of all, the description of the current Hungarian government as ‘far-right’ is absolutely outrageous and it also contradicts the conclusion of your own newspaper calling it ‘national conservative’ in its recent article (’Hungary’s Justice Minister: ’Our issues with George Soros are not antisemitism’).

Please note that it was the newly-appointed government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who stepped up against far-right militias causing havoc in Hungary in 2010.

It swiftly banned paramilitary groups, made Holocaust denial a crime and introduced zero tolerance against anti-Semitism, including no statute of limitation for Nazi crimes.

Do keep in mind that the current governing coalition is the only credible force standing up against the far-right and clearly anti-Semitic Jobbik Party, whose leader called in 2011 for the preparation of a list of Jewish members of Parliament and of the government to see whether they “provide a national security risk for Hungary”.

Another member was caught on tape boasting last year about “knocking down a Jewish woman” for her negative comments.

This party, which was marginalised by the present government, is supported lately most surprisingly by leftist-liberal intellectuals for whom nothing is sacred when it comes to fighting the governing FIDESZ Party.

In your place, I would much rather worry about phenomena like this.

The government introduced Holocaust education in the national curriculum, supports the training of Hungarian teachers at Yad Vashem and stepped up high-level official condemnations for incidents of antisemitic crime, which in turn sharply declined as independent monitoring mechanisms (such as the Action and Protection League of Europe and the EU’s Fundamental Right’s Agency) observed.

Dame Margaret Hodge. Photo credit: Yui Mok/PA Wire

May I remind you that Dame Margaret Hodge MP herself sees the lack of robust condemnation by Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition who could serve as the next prime minister, of the antisemitic abuse from its sympathisers as one of the main reasons for the growing anxiety of the British Jewry. Let me also point out that it is not the governing FIDESZ party where Jewish MPs have to be escorted by the police at their own party congress for security reasons.

The Hungarian government introduced a memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust in Hungary and took historical responsibility for the involvement of the Hungarian state in acts against Jews and other discriminated population in the Second World War.

The government holds regular round table discussions with Jewish community leaders and provides financial support for their cultural and educational activities, including the renewal of numerous synagogues, community spaces and Jewish cemeteries nationwide and beyond the borders.

Hungary hosted the World Jewish Congress in 2013, was the president of the IHRA in 2015/2016 and will host the European Maccabi Games this year.

The Hungarian government has a very good relationship with Israel with the next meeting between Prime Minister Orbán and Netanyahu coming later this month.

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (July 2017)

Therefore, we can say confidently that the Jewish community in Hungary lives in full safety thanks to the positive and decisive steps taken by the government in recent years.

Indeed, the question may arise, should not the Hungarian government be rather anxious about the rise of antisemitism in Western Europe, partly due to the phenomenon of increasing antisemitism on the left and the influx of Muslim immigrants, a significant number with antisemitic and anti-Israel views.

Even in the UK, the most recent crime statistics showed a staggering 17% rise in hate crimes in England and Wales, the Jewish community being affected most intensively.

If you compare these figures (672, population: 58.4 million, percentage of the Jewish community: 0.5%) with the number of anti-Semitic hate crimes in 2017 in Hungary (37, population: 10 million, percentage of the population of the Jewish community: 0.6-1%), proportionately you are three times more likely to be attacked here than in my home country.

The recent survey commissioned by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust about the awareness of the British population show a lack of knowledge of the Holocaust that calls for further efforts for education and remembrance policy, where the UK and Hungary work together in various forms.

Taking the comments of Marie van Zyl at face value, branding the planned meeting between the representative of the Hungarian government and the President of the Board of Deputies as “controversial” and citing only negative comments (among them an outright lie of an anonymous student claiming Jews are persecuted in Hungary), shows extreme prejudice with regard to the efforts made from our side to continue to build relationship in good faith with the British Jewish community.


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