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Concerns Linger Over Hungary's Response To Rising Anti-Semitism

08/05/2013 10:14 BST | Updated 07/07/2013 10:12 BST
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Hungary is insisting it's taking a firm stand against rising anti-Semitism in the country but questions remain over a perceived lack of commitment by its government.

At a meeting in Budapest, the World Jewish Congress called on Hungary to take immediate and decisive action against extremism in the country on Tuesday.

But some fear the government won't meet such a demand.

Robin Shepherd, with the think-tank The Henry Jackson Society, told the assembly the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban doesn't want to strongly clash with Jobbik, which is the only conservative party in the opposition, because Jobbik could split the vote on the right during the 2014 election.

"It's highly unlikely he will get a majority in elections next year. What's the natural party to go [to] either as a coalition partner or as somebody to support him from the opposition benches?," Shepherd said.

However, the chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary Peter Feldmajer said he thought the prime minister was clear in his opposition to Jobbik after Orban gave a speech at the meeting on Sunday.

"The prime minister promised me... they will never make a coalition with Jobbik and I believe [him]."

Orban said the government has "zero tolerance" for anti-Semitism and pointed out he banned a paramilitary group linked to the far-right Jobbik party. The government has also publicly denounced anti-Semitic comments including a suggestion by a Jobbik MP last November to create a list of Jews, claiming they may pose "national security risks."

The WJC said it was disappointed by the prime minister's speech to the assembly.

A statement released by the organisation said it regretted Orban "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."

During Orban's address to hundreds of Jewish leaders, he stressed the role of Christianity in the country. According to one study though, only about 10 percent of Hungarians have a strong belief in God.

"Our answer to increasing anti-Semitism in Europe and in Hungary is not the giving up of our religious and moral roots, but exactly the opposite: to recall and reinforce the examples and tradition of good Christians," said the prime minister.

The government, which significantly relies on the conservative countryside for support, introduced a constitution which "recognises the role of Christianity in preserving nationhood."

The executive director of the European Union of Jewish Students Nathan Chicheportiche said Orban didn't get the warm welcome state leaders normally get by the WJC.

"We're worried the Hungarian government will use this opportunity to say 'Listen, I've been welcome by the World Jewish Congress and everything has been fine.' But this isn't the reality."

Before the start of the WJC assembly, hundreds showed up to a rally by Jobbik on Saturday. The party's leaders claimed Israelis were trying to buy up Hungary. The government attempted to ban the protest but a court ruled it could go ahead.

Last month, a report by Tel Aviv University and the European Jewish Congress stated there was a 30 percent increase worldwide in anti-Semitic violence and vandalism last year. In a statement by the head of the EJC, Moshe Kantor said Hungary is "experiencing the most worrying racist and anti-Semitic trends in Europe" and was "disappointed by [Orban's] lack of action against Jobbik."

Orban's Fidesz government has put writers on the national school curriculum with links to anti-Semitism and critics argue Fidesz isn't doing enough to combat a rehabilitation of Hitler's ally and Hungary's World War II leader Miklos Horthy.

About 550, 000 Jews from Hungary were killed during the Holocaust. An estimated 100, 000 live in the country today.

Last week, a human rights leader said he was attacked after asking fellow spectators at a football match in Budapest to stop shouting fascist chants.

"In the first part of the match it was almost the whole stadium who used racist expressions," said Ferenc Orosz, the head of the Raoul Wallenberg Association, which fights against racism.

He said after those remarks stopped, about 10 spectators started to sing a song about the fascist leader Benito Mussolini and shouting the "Sieg Heil" Nazi salute.

"When I asked them to stop it, they stopped but they told me: 'We recognise you Jewish communist and be afraid of us'."

Orosz said that when the game was done he tried to leave the section but two large men blocked his way and one of them punched him, breaking his nose.

Orosz, while not Jewish himself, said he believes there's been a rise in anti-Semitic voices in the last few years and said Jobbik has normalised racist speech in the country.

"If the average people, for example a football supporter, saw on the TV... how [Jobbik members] speak, they think it's a legal and normal thing," Orosz said. "Much more people express [themselves] in this way... they are much more loud."