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Hungarian Rabbi Refutes Accusations of Antisemitism by The Wall Street Journal

Hungary Today 2023.01.16.

“I was highly surprised by your writing in The Wall Street Journal, in which you called Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán an antisemitic,” wrote Tamás Róna, president of the Hungarian Jewish Prayer Association (Magyar Zsidó Imaegylet, Zsima) in an open letter to publicist David Nirenberg.

In the article, Nirenberg, the Leon Levy Professor and Director of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., and the author of “Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition,” wrote that events in history can be a kind of antidote to antisemitism. Right at the beginning, however, he listed some people whom he called the “opponents of Jewish power,” mentioning at this point British Labour Party politician Jeremy Corbyn, and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

In connection with the article, Chief Rabbi Tamás Róna previously told Hungarian newspaper Mandiner that the Hungarian Jewry is experiencing a new heyday, and that the Hungarian government is giving special support to Hungarian and Hungarian-speaking Jewish communities beyond the borders of Hungary. He added that the government also supports the publication of Jewish textbooks and has renovated synagogues across the country. “For me, this attitude is helpful and not antisemitic,” Tamás Róna said.

The Rabbi pointed out in his public letter that it is the article that has just been published, and writings like it, that are inciting antisemitism. According to him, antisemitism is a real problem and is still present in the world, as many Jews in Western Europe, Israel, or even the United States are attacked or discriminated against.

I’d like to emphasize that mentioning systemic antisemitism about Hungary is a factual error and shows ignorance,”

emphasized Róna, adding that since the fall of communism, the Hungarian government has sought to cooperate with Jewish communities in a supportive way, and this has been particularly true in the last 12 years.

He said that Nirenberg’s writing was mostly a problematic one, and singled out the author’s repeated use of the term “Jewish supremacy,” which he described as offensive and even antisemitic, as it evoked the worst moments of the Holocaust and Nazism.

Above you being inaccurate in a world famous press organ read by millions, calling Prime Minister Viktor Orbán an antisemitic is an extreme expression,

Róna declared.

He also provided Nirenberg with a list of how much money the Hungarian government has recently given to certain Jewish institutions. As examples he cited the renewal of several synagogues in the capital and in the countryside, the opening of a kosher restaurant in Debrecen for Jews living Eastern Hungary, and the special focus on Jews on public media channels, including a special Jewish radio program on Kossuth Radio.

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Róna concluded his public letter by saying that he hoped it had helped Nirenberg by giving him a more complex picture of Hungarian Jewish public life.

Róna’s letter shows how customary it has become to label anyone who is even slightly right-wing and nationalist as antisemitic, even though this can lead to serious conceptual errors, as was the case with the publicist of The Wall Street Journal. The tone in the articles, mostly published in American and German newspapers, are disrespectful towards the Hungarian government, and often amounts to a veiled incitement to hatred and extreme mockery towards Hungarians as a nation for their consistent choice for a national-conservative government. There are many adjectives that can be applied to the Hungarian government, but judging by their past records and statistics concerning attacks against the Jewish community in the country, ‘antisemitic’ is hardly one of them.

Featured photo via Facebook/Dohány utcai Zsinagóga

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