Hungary is probably the safest place for Jews in Europe at the moment, said Chief Rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH) Slomó Köves at the international “Hungary at First ‘Site’” press conference organized by the Friends of Hungary Foundation, Hungary Today’s publisher, held online this year due to the pandemic. Although a part of the society has anti-semitic feelings, there are no physical atrocities unlike in some Western European countries.
In his presentation, Rabbi Köves referred to the establishment of their foundation called Foundation for Action and Defense (TVA). The inspiration for its founding came from the emergence of the extreme right, the growing popularity of Jobbik, certain politicians’ controversial statements around the middle of the last decade, and from the very thought that Jewish communities are responsible for themselves.
FactThe organization’s activities are centered around three pillars, the first providing legal protection and aid for victims, or in connection with Holocaust denial cases, or making documents to help change in legislation. Research and monitoring comes next, something that they lately extended to eight more countries. The third being education (programs, textbooks, courses), which Köves deems the most important.
Concerning Hungarian anti-semitic tendencies, Hungary definitely counts as safe in international comparison, Köves says. In 2019, for example, TVA listed only 35 cases of anti-semitic incidents in Hungary, meaning 3.5 cases per million inhabitants. This figure is considerably better than similar data of Western countries (the Netherlands, France, US, or Great Britain). What is more, neighboring Austria also recorded more cases over previous years.
Still, anti-semitic feelings are definitely present in Hungarian society. While in year-to-year comparison, the ratio of moderately anti-semites vary between 10-18%, the proportion of those with strong anti-semitic attitudes range between 18-27%. Around two-thirds of Hungarian society has no anti-semitic feelings at all. However, it’s worrisome, the rabbi pointed out, that moderate anti-semites are shifiting towards the extreme, something that Köves attributes to the emergence of the Jobbik party, which made far-right feelings more acceptable.
Hungary is not an anti-semitic country and is probably the safest place at the moment in Europe to be Jewish,”
Köves’ claims, in response to a question about regular Western reports on Hungarian anti-semitism. He notes that while in many parts of the world Jewish people often need a survival strategy when going out on the streets, this is not the case in Hungary. On the other hand, Hungary is still a country where a large part of the population does believe in the antisemitic ideology, something however, which is not specific to Hungarians, he argues.
Nevertheless, besides the aid of the Hungarian and Israeli governments, and being in close cooperation with the Hungarian police, both major Jewish communities have their own guarding system, including their own security staff, camera surveillance systems, and emergency rooms to be prepared for anything that can happen, Köves revealed.
In reference to [formerly far-right, now right-wing opposition party] Jobbik, Köves admits that Jobbik moved towards the center from 2016 and now declares ifself a people’s party, but he believes Jobbik still lacks explanatory statements about their reasons and distancing statements about earlier “unacceptable” statements and stances, lacking visible efforts to change from the grassroots. In addition, he points to their polls in which they showed that while the ratio of anti-semitic-leaning voters of the other parties range between 15-40%, in the case of Jobbik, it fluctuated around 60-70%, something that hasn’t changed in the last five years.
In response to a question about whether the Orbán government’s anti-Soros campaign had negative effects on the country’s anti-semitism and the Jewish community, Köves, besides admitting that he hasn’t found the campaign “elegant,” once again referred to their polls. According to their “pretty shocking findings,” despite the political overtones, respondents tended not to connect Soros to the Jewry and apparently the campaigns did not have any considerable effect on anti-semitism.
He thinks, on the other hand, that the only way that could accelerate and have an effect would be if we started to say that the anti-Soros campaign is actually anti-semitic, as those people who started to hate Soros because of the campaign would now connect the two, strenghtening their hate to the Jews. The overall number of anti-semitic incidents didn’t go up either with the appearance of the campaign and billboards, he claimed.
In regard to the House of Fates memorial project that drew waves in domestic politics as well, Köves says that they are working hard on it, but such large-scale projects definitely need time.
The project was announced in 2013 to be prepared for the 70th anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust. After it came to a halt due to disagreements between historian Mária Schmidt, who was responsible for the concept, and the Jewish communities in 2017, the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation was asked to take the lead on the project in 2018. They are now working with well-known design firms and the most famous historians of the Holocaust, Köves explained, showcasing the yet-to-be-published plan lying on his table, predicting the potential opening on or before the 80th anniversary (2024).
featured image via Zoltán Balogh/MTI