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January 29, 2013 2:07 am

Israeli Lawmakers Visit Hungary to Discuss Antisemitism

avatar by Arsen Ostrovsky

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Jobbik graffiti.

A delegation of leading parliamentarians from Israel and Europe traveled to Budapest over the weekend, where they voiced their concern at the growing level of antisemitism in the country to senior Hungarian ministers and officials.

The main impetus for the visit was remarks made by Marton Gyöngyösi, a Hungarian MP from the far-right Jobbik Party, who last month called for the creation of a “registry” of Jewish MPs and government officials in Hungary. His remarks caused global outrage and were roundly condemned by senior members of the Hungarian government.

The visit was also specifically timed to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday, in order to provide greater emphasis for the urgent need to combat the surging antisemitism across Europe.

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The 11-member delegation included Italian MP Fiamma Nirenstein, British MP John Mann and a group of five Israeli current and former politicians headed by Yossi Peled, a Holocaust survivor, former minister and current chairman of the advisory board of the Israeli-Jewish Congress (IJC).

Nirenstein, who recently announced her decision to leave the Italian Parliament to make Aliyah, said “we will never allow antisemitism and racial hatred to spread again its tentacles” and “will fight with all of our might, with our minds, with our bodies, we will oppose with the strength of culture and democracy the darkness of evil and of hate.” She adds, “and we will win.”

During their visit, the Parliamentarians met with senior Ministers from the ruling Fidesz party and members of the Opposition, including Dr. Tibor Navracsics (Minister of Public Administration & Justice and Deputy Prime Minister), Zoltan Balog (Minister of Human Resources – Culture, Education, Welfare, Integration), Mihály Balla (Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs) and Lazlo Kovacs (Deputy Chairman of the Hungarian Socialist Party and former Minister of Foreign Affairs).

John Mann, MP, who heads the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism, said “it is crucial for us as elected members of our various parliaments to work together to combat this scourge of racism and anti-Semitism”, adding that the kind of language being used by the Jobbik party, “will not be accepted.”

Gyöngyösi has previously openly questioned the Holocaust and said Israel was founded by “terrorists” and today runs a “Nazi system.” In the past year, leading Jewish figures have also been assaulted on the streets of Budapest, an Israeli flag was burnt by members of the Jobbik party in front of the main Budapest Synagogue, while Jewish graves have also been desecrated.

These actions underline that the surge of antisemitism in Hungary is today being directed not only against the local Jewish population, but also in the public vilification and delegitimization of the State of Israel.

Asked during the press conference in the Hungarian Parliament about the sizeable delegation from Israel, Einat Wilf, who is Chair of Knesset’s Education, Culture & Sports Committee, said: “We feel a responsibility not just for Jews in Israel but for Jews worldwide.”

Yossi Peled, a survivor of the Holocaust himself, noted that “with antisemitism once again on the rise in Europe, this time also masking itself in the demonization of Israel, it is more important than ever for Parliamentarians to show that they stand united in the global fight against hatred, intolerance and antisemitism.”

In large part, this was a key message that the Parliamentarians from Europe and Israel sought to bring to their Hungarian colleagues. This was not just an opportunity to raise their concerns about the dangers of antisemtism, but to acknowledge the steps taken by the Government and many in the Opposition, to condemn and root out this evil scourge.

Before departing on the trip, the Parliamentarians said “we believe it is important to show our solidarity with our Hungarian colleagues in the Parliament and in the Government to fight racism and antisemitism, while reinforcing our common values of tolerance, human dignity and respect for all faiths and religions.”

Following their meetings, the Parliamentarians remarked they were confident in the Hungarian government’s “unequivocal condemnation of all manifestations of antisemitism and absolute steadfastness in combating it”, but noting that a lot of work remains to be done and that they look forward to working together to help eradicate this hatred.

Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer and freelance journalist. This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post.

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