The Algemeiner and the Jewish Media Are Wrong About Hungary
A few weeks ago, The Algemeiner posted an article titled “Mass Nazi Salute at Euro 2016 Match Spurs French Police to Investigate Hungarian Fans for Antisemitism.” The story cited the UK’s Daily Mail, which wrote about some “Hungarian football thugs making Nazi salutes.” The Algemeiner, however, reported that there was a “mass Nazi salute.” Certainly even one person making such a gesture is unacceptable, and those responsible should be investigated and punished. But there was not a Hungarian crowd of people making “the Hitlerian gesture, en masse.”
The alleged mass incident was used by The Algemeiner to validate recent research claiming that a “third of all Hungarians hold antisemitic views. The article also stated that Hungary’s third largest party, the far-right Jobbik, “is quickly growing in popularity across Hungary.” These claims have been debated in Hungary, as it sounds somewhat exaggerated that one out three Hungarians would be antisemitic. And the “quick growth of popularity” of Jobbik is definitely not true. Quite the opposite: Jobbik has lost 35-40% of its supporters since 2014, and it stands around 13-14% in the polls as of June 2016.
Why does this matter? Because this misrepresentation hides the changes that Hungary has gone through in the past decade or so. Yes, Hungary is responsible for the third largest loss of life in any European country in the Holocaust. And Hungary started discriminating against its Jewish population 13 years before Hitler came to power. After the war, we failed to face these evils. The Communist regime chose to wrap the whole issue in total silence.
I grew up just a few blocks away from the birthplace of Theodor Herzl in downtown Budapest. But I did not know his name. In school, I heard nothing about Jewish history or the rich Jewish cultural heritage of Hungary. And concerning the state of Israel, we were told that it was an aggressor against the progressive Arab people and a puppet of the US. I attended the Universitiy of Economics in Budapest — one of the top Hungarian universities — in the 1980s, but I experienced this silence there, too. It was only in an underground evangelical Christian community where I heard about Abraham, King David, the Twelve Tribes of Israel or Herzl, David Ben-Gurion and the Six Day War for the first time.
A lot of things have changed in our understanding and in our attitude since the fall of Communism. Today, no child in Budapest would miss the birthplace of the founder of modern political Zionism, because the place is called Herzl Square. Budapest has a vibrant Jewish community — the third largest in Europe, which lives in security. Yes, there is a small number of ugly atrocities on the street (much fewer than a decade ago), but Jews can proudly wear kippot or tzitzit without being afraid of attacks in Budapest. We know too well that the same would be impossible in many Western capitals. We are proud of having had both a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning writer (Kertész Imre) and a Holocaust-themed Academy Award-winning movie (Nemes Jeles’s Son of Saul) in recent years.
On the diplomatic level, Hungary is a friend of Israel, as the only country in the EU that officially rejected BDS and the labeling of Israeli products. There’s a lot of positive media coverage about Israel (yes, critical as well, but the balance is much better than in Western Europe), and the highly popular Israeli Ambassador, Ilan Mor, has been a frequent guest in TV studios and at social events over the past five years.
And Hungary has by far the largest philosemite, pro-Israeli Christian-Zionist community in Europe. The more than 100,000-member Faith Church, led by Rev. Sandor Nemeth, has been supporting Israel and fighting against antisemitsm and anti-Zionism for the past 30 years. Nobel Prize-winner writers Elie Wiesel and Imre Kertész have spoken at Faith Church conferences, as have Jewish World Congress Chairman Ronald S. Lauder and Israeli minister Uzi Landau, Robert Ilatov and others. And the activity of this Hungarian megachurch has been positively influencing the policy of the Hugarian government.
I had the privilege of translating Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy, and I had also the chance to interview the author in Jerusalem and in Budapest. According to Sharasky’s definition, “A society is free if people have a right to express their views without fear of arrest, imprisonment or physical harm.” This standard is clear. There are no political prisoners in Hungary and anybody can express his opinion in the press or in social media without any fear.
Hungary is not a perfect society. We are far from it. But Hungary is a free society that wants to show a new, friendly face to the world. It is not easy as there are forces that want to keep us bound to the past. Please help us this effort.