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July 3, 2017 2:56 pm

Veteran Jewish Journalist Expresses Concern Over Antisemitism in Hungary: ‘Will Netanyahu Provide Kosher Certification to Hungarian PM Orban?’

avatar by Ben Cohen

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) shares a slice of cake with antisemitic journalist Zsolt Bayer. Photo: Screenshot

A prominent Jewish journalist who survived Nazi rule in both Austria and Hungary has expressed strong concern over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s forthcoming visit to Budapest, following recent inflammatory statements by Hungary’s right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban linked to the ongoing rehabilitation of wartime dictator Miklos Horthy.

“It is worrying to me that Prime Minister Netanyahu will visit Hungary,” Karl Pfeifer – author of several exposes of right and left-wing antisemitism in Austria, Germany and Hungary – told The Algemeiner on Monday. The Israeli prime minister is scheduled to arrive in Budapest on July 18.

Pfeifer noted that Israel’s Ambassador in Budapest, Yossi Armani, was compelled to vent his frustrations on national television after receiving no response from Hungarian officials regarding his concerns about Orban’s speech on June 21, in which he praised Horthy, a nationalist conservative who took power in 1919 and allied Hungary with Adolf Hitler’s regime in 1938.

“That history did not bury us after World War I is down to a few exceptional statesmen like Miklos Horthy,” Orban declared. “That fact cannot be negated by Hungary’s mournful role in World War II.” Only after Amrani warned that the speech might impact the meeting between Netanyahu and Orban did he receive a call from Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto. Israel then accepted Szijjarto’s reassurances that Hungary had “zero tolerance” for antisemitism, despite his description of Horthy during the same conversation as having had “positive periods but also very negative periods.”

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Pfeifer argued that Orban’s enthusiasm for Horthy is an integral part of what he sees as the Hungarian Prime Minister’s xenophobic world view. In one oft-cited example of this, when speaking to business leaders in February, Orban repeated the phrase “It is very important to preserve our ethnic homogeneity” several times.

“Orban, who is propagating ‘ethnic purity,’ embraced a few days ago (Turkish President Recep Tayyip) Erdogan, when these two isolated politicians met in Ankara,” Pfeifer observed.

While Erdogan has not shied away from explicit antisemitism, Orban has been more cautious when it comes to making statements that are uncomplicatedly antisemitic. However, some of his closest friends and allies, among them leading Hungarian journalist Zsolt Bayer, have made viciously antisemitic statements without any response from Orban.

In a speech last year, Bayer asked, “Why are we surprised that the simple peasant whose experience was that the Jews broke into his village, beat his priest to death, threatened to convert his church into a movie theater – why do we find it shocking that twenty years later he watched without pity as the gendarmes dragged the Jews away from his village?”

“Will Netanyahu now give Orban a teudat kashrut (kosher certificate)?” pointedly asked Pfeifer, who survived Nazi occupation both in his native Vienna and later on in Budapest, before breaking the British immigration blockade to reach Mandate Palestine in 1943 and going on to serve in the Palmach during Israel’s War of Independence.

The issue of Horthy’s relationship with the Nazis and his role in the Holocaust has been the subject of bitter debate among historians. While Horthy was never a Nazi, he presided over the “White Terror” of 1919 and 1920 that followed the defeat of a communist revolution, during which 5,000 Jews were murdered and many thousands more injured and left destitute by the violence.

A self-declared antisemite, Horthy’s anti-communism made him a natural ally for Hitler. As a client state of Nazi Germany, Horthy’s Hungary introduced more than 300 pieces of antisemitic legislation while resisting German entreaties to deport Hungarian Jews to the Nazi concentration camps. In March 1944, Horthy  – who had realized that Hitler was losing the war and had been reaching out to the Allies – was overthrown in a Nazi-sponsored coup. Nearly 500,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz between May and July 1944, during the Nazi occupation that followed.

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