A Nov. 21-released global poll published by anti-Semitism monitor, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), commented on by many in the global media, including The Wall Street Journal, revealed “ … hateful notions about Jews are rising in Eastern and Central European countries polled.”
Ironically, both the ADL and the media publicizing the poll hold out Hungary as being a particular offender. In the interest of intellectual honesty, it is important to set the record straight concerning contemporary Hungary and the global misperception of its level of anti-Semitism.
As a visiting research fellow of the Danube Institute in Budapest, I was fortunate to witness firsthand the many ways Hungary is combatting anti-Semitism through education, legislation, the attitudes and actions of its leaders, and through its efforts to strengthen Hungarian Jewish communities.
While the ADL poll examined perceived opinions regarding anti-Semitic attitudes, it nevertheless ignored the policies and actions of the Orban government that are transforming Hungary into one of the safest and most welcoming places in all of Europe for Jews.
In the past six months alone:
• Two new synagogues have been opened in Budapest.
• The Orthodox Jewish Communities Association, the umbrella organization of Chabad of Hungary, has been officially recognized and granted “special status” eligible to receive government funding and grants for educational work,
• In July 2019, Budapest was the proud host of the global Maccabi Games.
Rabbi Shlomo Kovesh, head of the Association of United Hungarian Jewish Congregations told The Jerusalem Post last month:
“The fact that the Hungarian government puts such an emphasis on recognizing all streams of Jewish affiliation, and goes out of its way to rebuild Jewish life in Hungary, tells a lot about how important the topic of its relationship to the Jewish community and relations with Israel is to the Hungarian government today.
“Hungary has one of most positive governments in Europe to Israel and is proudly one of the safest places for Jews in Europe today,” Rabbi Kovesh added.
In July 2018, Prime Minister Victor Orban made his first visit to the state of Israel, where he actually apologized for Hungary’s role in the Holocaust and laid out in the clearest of terms his rejection of anti-Semitism and his desire for an enhanced Hungary-Israel relationship.
This was not mere diplomatic goodwill, nor is it particularly new. Hungary consistently proves through actions, its resolve to tackle anti-Semitism within its borders, as well as its friendship and support for Israel.
To name but a few of its accomplishments in this regard:
The “Fundamental Law of Hungary,” entered into force in 2012, officially recognized Hungarian Jewry as an inseparable part of the Hungarian nation. Additionally, just months after Mr. Orban returned to power in 2010, Budapest’s oldest synagogue was rededicated — the first event of its kind in Central Europe in 60 years, which Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called “the symbol of a Jewish renaissance.” Moreover, pensions of Holocaust survivors have been increased and mandatory programs of the Holocaust education have been implemented in grades 5-12.
On the global stage, Hungary’s support for Israel has been unwavering. It was announced just last week that Hungary is blocking efforts to get all 28 European Union member states to issue a joint statement condemning the U.S. decision to no longer consider Israeli settlements as illegal.
Similar initiatives occurred last year, when Hungary condemned the growing threat of anti-Semitism during the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 38th session in Geneva. Additionally, Hungary abstained from a U.N. General Assembly vote condemning President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, and also when the UNHRC voted to establish an investigation into the violence along Gaza’s border. Moreover, Hungary joined with the Czech Republic and Romania to block a joint EU statement criticizing the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem.
If these actions are not persuasive enough, during my time at the Danube Institute, I met with Jewish Hungarians who shared firsthand the many ways their community (with more than 100,000, one of Europe’s largest) is thriving under current conditions. What struck me most was that unlike their co-religionists in other European countries such as France, Hungarian Jews feel safe and secure, even in outwardly expressing their Jewishness.
It is quite perplexing that, notwithstanding the Orban government’s friendship with the state of Israel, its policy of zero-tolerance for anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and its robust progress in encouraging flourishing Hungarian Jewish communities, that these realties go woefully underreported.
To its credit, current leadership in Hungary has moved laudably beyond the sins of its antecedents. It is high time the world realizes that today’s Hungary boldly rejects anti-Semitism and strives to safeguard and support its Jewish communities.
• Lee Cohen, senior fellow of the Danube Institute in Budapest and of the London Center for Policy Research in New York, served as adviser on Western Europe to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.