The far right Jobbik party has become the third biggest party in recent year in Hungary, campaigning on a joint ticket to cut down on Roma crime and reduce the “Zionist” influence. As we reported last week, Jobbik controlled-councils have even established twinning arrangements with towns in Iran, much to the bemusement of most local townsfolk, many of whom have little idea where Iran is, much less about its ideological hatred of Israel. Other acts of far-Right gesture politics, though, have made their point rather less subtly, such as the Jobbik-supporting bikers’ groups with their “step on the gas” rallies. Geddit?
It was no great surprise, therefore, that the World Jewish Congress, which normally meets in Jerusalem, chose to hold its annual congress in Budapest last weekend, to highlight what it says is a worrying rise in anti-Semitism in Hungary. It ended yesterday by calling on Hungarians “to recognise that Jobbik and its subsidiaries pose a fundamental threat to Hungary’s democracy”. For anyone who thought they were exaggerating, a noisy counter-protest by a pro-Jobbik militia, dressed in black paramilitary gear and boots, helped make the Congress’s point for them.
Listening to some of Jobbik’s wilder rants last week, though, I was reminded of Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictional character Borat, the notoriously anti-Semitic TV reporter from time-warped Kazakhstan. Jews, I was told, controlled everything from the economy to the media, and many points in between. Indeed, some of Jobbik’s anti-Jewish hysteria has a Boratesque black comedy to it. Take, for example, the tale of the Jobbik MP, Csanad Szegedi, who was told recently that his grandmother was a Jew who had survived Auschwitz. So distraught was he that he apparently offered people money to keep quiet about it.
But question the average Jobbik supporter in more detail, and few offer any real substance to back their anti-Jewish gripes. For a start, unlike Hungary’s half-million-strong Roma community, who live on the outskirts of many towns, Hungary’s Jewish community is all barely visible outside of the small Jewish quarter in central Budapest. Even there, only a tiny fraction dress in identifiably Jewish clothing, and nationwide, most Jews still opt to keep their identity a very private matter. As such, while Hungary has one of the largest remaining communities of Jews in central Europe – an estimated 100,000 – the numbers of “self-identified” Jews are estimated at only a tenth of that.
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