As Europe Sees Rise in Antisemitism, Hungary Remains Safe Haven for Jews | Opinion

Is Hungary antisemitic? Many in the international media and the European Parliament seem to think so. One of the latter's committees recently recommended that European Union funds earmarked for COVID-19 recovery not be sent to Hungary, in part because the rights of Jews are allegedly not guaranteed there.

This accusation is inaccurate, and it only serves to whitewash the dire situation of Jews in certain Western and Northern European countries. These countries struggle to confront their own antisemitism because acts of Jew-hatred there are most frequently committed by immigrants from the Islamic world. By contrast, Hungary, which has a very small number of those immigrants, is one of the safest places in Europe for Jews to live.

More than 2,700 antisemitic incidents were reported in Germany in 2021, the Netherlands has seen a 10-year high in antisemitic acts, and antisemitism in the U.K. has (again) reached an all-time high last year. The migration crisis that hit Europe in 2015 inspired discourse on a number of social, economic, and political issues, and antisemitism was one of the most crucial. In German mainstream media, the following headlines already appeared in the course of 2015: "More Antisemitism Brought to Germany by Refugees?" (Süddeutsche Zeitung), "What About the Consequences of Refugees' Antisemitism?" (Die Welt), "Refugees' Antisemitism Raises Concerns" (Tagesspiegel), "Imported Antisemitism" (Spiegel Online).

While not a lot of research has been done into antisemitism in migrant communities, in one poll conducted in 2017 in Bayern, Germany, half of the 800 migrants surveyed believed that Jews had "too much power" in the world. A few memorable incidents also stand out, such as when a Palestinian migrant girl, with whom German chancellor Angela Merkel appeared in public in 2015, called for the abolition of the state of Israel. In December 2017, a Syrian migrant attacked a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam with sticks.

But can we verify who exactly is responsible for all these attacks? The 2018 data provided by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) can be taken as the baseline; the agency explored, by conducting surveys in local Jewish communities, the extent to which Muslim extremist immigrants were represented among antisemitic assailants. It is important to note that the numbers below were reported by the members of the communities themselves and were not disclosed as official statistical data. In France, those "with a Muslim extremist view" were reportedly responsible for 33 percent of antisemitic attacks, in Germany, 41 percent, in the Netherlands, 35 percent. In the U.K., they were responsible for 22 percent of all attacks, which earned this group "second place"; radical left-wing perpetrators "won" with 25 percent.

It should also be noted that according to the victims, right-wing assailants were outnumbered by radical leftist assailants in most of the countries under scrutiny.

Viktor Orban
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM - JUNE 24: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Mihaly Orban arrives forf the second day of an EU summit in the Europa building, the EU Council headquarter on June 24, 2022 in Brussels, Belgium. Thierry Monasse/Getty Images

What is the situation in right-wing hardliner Viktor Orbán's Hungary? Prime Minister Orbán is regularly accused of antisemitism in the international press, mostly because of his campaigns against Hungarian-American Jewish philanthropist and investor George Soros. However, one Hungarian poll has indicated that only 2 percent of the population associated Soros with Jews and vice versa. This does not mean that no one has ever criticized Soros in Hungary with antisemitic undertones, but the general populace does not interpret Orbán's anti-Soros rhetoric as antisemitic.

At the same time, the number of antisemitic incidents in Hungary does not reach those seen in Western Europe. Different organizations measure different numbers, but they all agree that in 2020 no more than 70 such events happened, of which only one was physical. Kosher slaughter, banned in most parts of Belgium and Greece, is protected in Hungary as a matter of religious freedom and Hungary regularly stands by Israel in the EP and the UN; just recently the Hungarian European Commissioner, Oliver Várhelyi, blocked the distribution of EU funds for the Palestinians over fears of supporting Islamist antisemitism.

This is not to say that Hungary does not have an antisemitism problem, but it is on the opposition, and not on the governing Right. The Hungarian opposition today is made of several parties ranging from the far-left to the far-right, which work in close collaboration, support candidates together and hope to beat Orbán's Fidesz in unison. Although these tactics failed rather spectacularly during the national elections of April this year—when Orbán scored his fourth victory in a row, again with two-thirds of the parliamentary seats—the opposition has not stopped collaborating with the far-right Jobbik party.

Disappointed with its performance under party president Péter Jakab, a far-right politician who regularly cited his own Jewish ancestry in order to whitewash his formerly neo-Nazi party, Jobbik chose a new president last month. But that new leader, Márton Gyöngyösi, is certainly no philosemite. Perhaps some still remember some statements of his that caused international outrage in 2012. Gyöngyösi, then a Jobbik MEP, called for drawing up a list of politicians of Jewish ancestry: "now is the time to assess the number of people of Jewish origin living here, and especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who pose a certain national security risk to Hungary."

And while some could argue that Gyöngyösi has since changed his views, in a 2018 interview with the Times of Israel he referred to Gaza as a "concentration camp" run by Jews. "It's the Israeli embassy, Israel killing civilians, Israel having bombed the UN school, Israel having killed close to 70 civilians, Israel having occupied the territories, it's Israel making this territory the biggest concentration camp of modern history," he said.

Considering the above, the international media campaign aimed at calling Orbán's Hungary antisemitic is inaccurate. One might ask the question: is it Hungary where antisemitic harassment and attacks are on the rise each year or the so-called model democracies of Western Europe? Is it Hungary where kosher slaughter is banned or Belgium, the very heart of the EU? Is it Hungary that regularly condemns Israel in international forums or the rest of the EU? At the same time, the Hungarian opposition harbors some true antisemites, who enjoy the blessings of international support. If anything, this should draw the condemnation of those who criticize Orbán daily.

László Bernát Veszprémy is a Hungarian Holocaust historian and editor-in-chief of Corvinak.hu, the popular science journal of Mathias Corvinus Collegium.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.