Uproar in Hungary After Antisemitic Journalist Receives Country’s Second Highest Honor; 50 Previous Laureates Return Awards
Controversy has erupted in Hungary over the government’s decision to give a prestigious award to a journalist known for making antisemitic and racist comments, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.
Journalist Zsolt Bayer, whom the Bloomberg report called a “close ally” of right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, received the Order of Merit of the Knight’s Cross – Hungary’s second highest honor — last week.
In protest, more than 50 past recipients of the honor have returned their awards.
According to the Bloomberg report, Bayer, a co-founder of Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, has been fined multiple times by Hungary’s media regulator for antisemitic and racist comments. His targets have included Jews, refugees, and the Roma. In one example of antisemitism, Bayer wrote of two Jewish politicians — Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Andras Schiffer — “unfortunately they weren’t all buried up to their necks in the Orgovany woods.” This was a reference, the report said, to the 1919 killing of suspected communists in Hungary, amongst whom were many Jews.
Andras Heisler, a past recipient of the Order of Merit of the Knight’s Cross recognition and the current head of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, was one of those who returned their awards following the honoring of Bayer. Heisler was quoted as saying he didn’t want to be “in the same community with a person who is racist, antisemitic, and whose display of ardent hatred for the Roma is contaminating Hungary.”
In April, the Times of Israel reported that Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Ilan Mor had written a letter to Peter Petan, the editor-in-chief of the Magyar Hirlap newspaper, to complain about articles written by Bayer.
Mor wrote that a series of op-eds penned by Bayer earlier this year in Magyar Hirlap, “openly advocate anti-Semitic sentiments and incite against the Jewish people and the state of Israel.” Bayer’s op-eds, the report said, characterized anti-Semitism in Hungary as “a natural reaction to actions by Jews against non-Jews.”
Antisemitism is not uncommon in Hungary, survey data shows. As The Algemeiner reported, a survey commissioned by a Hungarian antisemitism watchdog group found in June that one-third of the general population in Hungary espoused varying degrees of anti-Jewish attitudes.
According to the Action and Protection Foundation survey, antisemitism and prejudice against Jews are closely tied with general xenophobic attitudes found to be rampant in Hungary.