Hungary’s Orbán stops short of censuring anti-Jewish party

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Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán strongly denounced growing anti-Semitism in his country on Sunday (5 May), but stopped short of censuring the far-right Jobbik party at a gathering of world Jewish leaders in Budapest.

Orbán told the World Jewish Congress (WJC), which is holding its four-yearly assembly in the Hungarian capital, his concern about rising hostility against Jews there and elsewhere in Europe. He said anti-Semitism was "unacceptable and intolerable".

He recounted the steps his conservative government has taken to outlaw hate crimes and preserve the memory of the Holocaust, during which about half a million Hungarian Jews died.

But he did not respond to a call from WJC President Ronald Lauder, who in his opening remarks singled out Jobbik and told Orbán: "Hungarian Jews need you to take on these dark forces."

After Orbán 's speech, a WJC statement said: "The prime minister did not confront the true nature of the problem: the threat posed by the anti-Semites in general and by the extreme-right Jobbik party in particular.

"We regret that Mr. Orbán did not address any recent anti-Semitic or racist incidents in the country, nor did he provide sufficient reassurance that a clear line has been drawn between his government and the far-right fringe."

Also against Roma, European Union

Jobbik, which also vilifies Hungary's Roma minority and opposes the European Union and what it sees as other foreign influences, has 43 of the 386 seats in parliament, where Orbán's Fidesz party has more than two-thirds of the seats.

One of Jobbik's deputies, Márton Gyöngyösi, called in November for lists of prominent Jews to be drawn up to protect national security.

At a Jobbik rally on Saturday (4 May), he and other deputies charged that Jews were trying to buy up property to take over Hungary and accused Israel of running concentration camps in Gaza.

Addressing the Jewish leaders, Orbán said: "We don't want Hungary to become a country of hate and anti-Semitism and we ask for your help and experience in helping us solve the problem."

He said Hungary's answer to increasing anti-Semitism here and elsewhere in Europe" is not to give up our religious and moral roots but to recall and reinforce the example of good Christians" in its laws defending the dignity of all citizens.

While the government has taken steps against anti-Semitism, critics say it does not draw a clear enough line against Jobbik, which competes with it for votes of nationalist Hungarians frustrated by the deepening economic crisis.

Elie Petit, a French Jewish student leader attending the assembly, said Orbán "does not fight really anti-Semitism, racism and attacks on minorities. He is not strong enough to alter the actions of the Jobbik party."

Hungary was once a centre of Jewish life in Europe and a quarter of Budapest's pre-Holocaust population was Jewish.

The country now has about 80,000-100,000 Jews and has seen a modest revival of Jewish life with renovated synagogues and new schools. New restaurants and bars have made the old ghetto area into one of the city's most popular night spots.

In a letter to the Hungarian Minister of State for Social and Family Affairs, sent today, Rina Beers, president of FEANTSA, said: “We believe that the amended Hungarian Constitution substantially increases the risk that homelessness will be criminalised; paragraph 3 of article 8 of the amended Constitution re-opens the possibility for municipalities to criminalise homeless people who have nowhere else to go.”

In response to a statement from Hannes Swoboda, president of the Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, regarding Orbán’s speech, the Hungarian EPP Group Delegation made the following statement:

"Mr Swoboda must be aware of the fact that the Hungarian far-right gained ground in the Hungarian political field as a result of the disastrous economic and social politics of his Hungarian Socialist comrades. The catastrophic governing of the Hungarian Socialist government before 2010 not only drove Hungary into bankruptcy, but led to the unprecedented rise of far-right Jobbik, which scored a 17% electoral result in 2010 up from 2% in 2006."

"Before 2010, Swoboda inexplicably did not raise a single word when the Hungarian Socialists failed to protect minorities in Hungary and did not step up against far-right paramilitary groups and marches which created fear in the Hungarian Jewish and Roma communities. The previous Hungarian Socialist government also failed to penalise hate-speech," they added.

Spokesperson on the issue from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Renate Weber said:

"The ALDE group has since a long time expressed its most serious concern on the situation of democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary and called EU institutions to make full use of the tools already at our disposal and enshrined in the Treaties, as well as to establish better and stronger instruments to monitor, prevent and intervene in cases of violations of EU fundamental values in the member states."

Dutch ALDE member Sophie in'Veld commented:

"The contents of the report clearly and incontestably demonstrate that the Hungarian government is violating the fundamental European values set out in Article 2 and referred to in article 7 TEU. Article 7.1 TEU is not a "nuclear button" at all, but a first, a sensible step in opening a dialogue with a member state on genuine concerns about the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and of fundamental rights."

Following general election held in April 2010, Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said that voters had carried out a "revolution" by giving his party centre-right Fidesz two-thirds of the seats in parliament to rebuild Hungary after a near financial collapse.

The Hungarian far-right party Jobbik (Movement for a better Hungary) also scored well in the elections, obtaining 47 seats in the 386-member parliament. It is the third largest party after Fidesz and the Socialists.

Although officially in opposition, Jobbik is seen by political foes as ideologically close to the ruling party.

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