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The Need to Separate Political Agendas and Antisemitism

Barbara Bene 2022.08.09.

The leader of the Association of Hungarian Jewish Communities (EMIH) pointed out the faults of the left’s political agenda regarding Jews in an opinion piece in The Jerusalem Post, a prominent Israeli Jewish newspaper and website. Slomó Köves thinks that fighting antisemitism should be above one’s political agenda, yet that is not always the case.

The rabbi mentioned a study about the European Jewish community that was made by the European Jewish Association and released in Budapest about which Ira Forman, former US State Department’s envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, wrote an opinion piece. Forman had included half-truths and lies in his article, according to Slomó Köves, and stated that the Hungarian government, along with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is antisemitic. Moreover, Forman wrote that Orbán and his government use ideological allies in order to echo their alternative facts and also to hide their true antisemitism.

To understand the indignation of the Hungarian rabbi and to see things clearly, we need to look at who Ira Forman is. As Slomó Köves writes, Forman was the US State Department’s envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism during the Obama era, between 2013 and 2017. Even earlier, between 1996 and 2010, he served as the CEO of the National Jewish Democratic Council, a political lobby that advocated for the Democratic Party.

Hungary Is One of the Safest Countries in Europe for Jews
Hungary Is One of the Safest Countries in Europe for Jews

At the European Jewish Association (EJA) conference in Budapest, Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjén stressed that Hungary will not give in to any kind of anti-Semitic phenomenon, be it far-right or far-left, jihadist, or anti-Israel.Continue reading

Taking the above into account, it is safe to say that when it comes to Hungary and Hungarian values or the way of life here, Mr. Forman might be negatively biased. As Mr. Köves writes in his piece:

Forman, a Democrat and a political lobbyist with a Jewish background, appeared to the best candidate for a respectable appointment by the president for a political agenda within the State Department.”

He goes on to point out that Mr. Forman as envoy did not have much to say about those horrible antisemitic attacks between 2013 and 2017 which occurred in Europe. In 2014, a terrorist opened fire on Belgium’s Jewish Museum in Brussels. In 2017, a Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi was beaten, then thrown to her death from her flat in Paris, and the list goes on.

During the same period, the US State Department was more concerned with a Hungarian town, Székesfehérvár, some 70 kilometers from the capital. In 2016, in a Holocaust Remembrance Day speech in Washington, then-president Barack Obama talked about how the US government prevented Székesfehérvár from erecting a statue of Bálint Hóman. Hóman was a third-tier politician who held openly antisemitic views and was a member of the Hungarian Fascist Parliament.

Getting back to the study, which was published in Budapest concerning the European Jews, an interesting finding is that there is no correlation between antisemitic attitudes and the frequency of antisemitic hate incidents.

While in France or Germany, where the proportion of people who share antisemitic views are only around 15%, numerous antisemitic incidents happen; in Hungary for example, where 42 percent hold antisemitic views, there are significantly fewer incidents of this kind.

Seeing the inconsistency, Köves concludes that there is a need to create a comprehensive index that does not exclusively measure social attitudes or is not restricted to antisemitic events. Instead, it should attempt to give us a comprehensive picture based on all the available information.

The Index of Respect and Tolerance commissioned by the EJA is an early first attempt towards this goal. It is based on three pillars, among them a survey on antisemitic prejudices and government measures, which aim to give a considerable upgrade to our level of knowledge about European Jews.

As Köves writes at the end of his piece, the need behind this rethink was “to avoid either the left or the right using the issue of antisemitism as a tool to guide their own political agenda.”

Featured Photo: MTI/Szigetváry Zsolt

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