Viktor Orbán, Jobbik, and anti-Semitism

Until now Fidesz made practically no attempt to keep Jobbik at arm’s length. In fact, as Viktor Orbán practically admitted, Fidesz and Jobbik were frequently on the same side during parliamentary debates. More often than not they voted together.

László Kövér, the speaker of the house, who often attacked MSZP members for their alleged misbehavior, ignored the obvious disregard of the rules demonstrated by Jobbik MPs. For example, back in 2010, on the opening day of parliament, Gábor Vona appeared in the uniform of the Hungarian Guard, whose activities were made illegal earlier and their uniform banned. Kövér didn’t seem to notice it. And Jobbik members of parliament regularly behave aggressively and in an unruly manner in the chamber, hurling abuse on the members of MSZP, LMP, and DK. No one ever tried to put an end to this behavior.

I’m also coming to the conclusion that Fidesz and the government knew or at least suspected ahead of time the contents of the speech Zsolt Baráth (Jobbik) delivered on the 1883 trial of fifteen Jewish inhabitants of Tiszaeszlár who were accused of the ritual murder of a local girl. The timing was fixed by Jobbik to coincide with Zoltán Balczó’s (Jobbik) presiding. But the government was also prepared because why else would János Fónagy (Fidesz), undersecretary of the Ministry of National Development, be present? It was late at night and most people had already left the chamber. The whole thing seems to have been choreographed and thus, I suspect, could have been avoided with some foresight and will.

The speech was delivered and the expected worldwide scandal followed. I don’t know what was going on in the head of Viktor Orbán when he himself chose not to make a statement that would in the strongest terms condemn the incident. But he didn’t. Instead he let Tibor Navracsics’s ministry issue a brief statement published only on the website of the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration.

A few days later it was becoming obvious that this three-line written statement simply would not do. Even Béla Lipták of the Hungarian Lobby, a stalwart supporter and defender of Viktor Orbán and Fidesz in the United States, decided that the Orbán government must take stronger measures because “this incident may reinforce the malicious accusations that there is anti-Semitism and racism in Hungary.” Lipták asked Orbán to issue a resolution supported by all parties that would condemn Zsolt Baráth’s anti-Semitic speech. For good measure, Lipták included Géza Jeszensky’s condemnation of the incident. Jeszenszky, who was Hungary’s ambassador in Washington at the time of the attack on the World Trade Center, knew from bitter experience how damaging Orbán’s silence can sometimes be. Orbán remained quiet in 2001 when István Csurka, the chairman of the anti-Semitic MIÉP, told parliament that the United States got what it deserved with the 9/11 attack. From that time on, Orbán didn’t exist as far as George W. Bush was concerned.

So, Orbán must have thought long and hard and decided to act. Yesterday, MSZP came up with the idea that a permanent parliamentary committee should be established that would deal with ethical questions concerning the behavior of members of parliament. Pál Steiner (MSZP) asked the prime minister’s assistance in this matter. To everybody’s surprise Viktor Orbán rose and decided to support the MSZP demand to set up such a committee. That was the signal for the Fidesz-KDNP MPs to vote the “proper” way. Jobbik members naturally voted against the resolution, but they were not the only ones. Seven Fidesz members voted with Jobbik in addition to two others who abstained. That tells us something about some Fidesz MPs’ attitude on anti-Semitism.

The only problem with Viktor Orbán’s handling of the affair was that he referred to the Hungarian Jewish community as a “minority.” There are serious problems with this terminology. According to the Magyar Értelmező Szótár the meaning of minority (kisebbség) is a group whose members speak a different language or adhere to a different culture from that of the majority. That doesn’t fit the Hungarian Jewish community. The English definition, unlike the Hungarian, does include religious groups, but most members of the Hungarian Jewry don’t belong to any organized religious community.

There is a website called Nyelv és tudomány (Language and Science) that immediately published an article entitled “Kisebbség-e a zsidóság?” (Are the Jewish people a minority?). The author of the article doesn’t bother with different definitions of the concept of “minority” but instead concentrates on what the Hungarian Jews themselves think of their own place in Hungary. There is a small group that advocates declaring Hungarian Jewry an official minority. They have been working on achieving that goal for the last seven years without the slightest hope of ever achieving it because the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian Jewish community don’t consider themselves to be in any way different from the rest of Hungarian society. Neither linguistically nor culturally. Even the small Orthodox community admits that most Hungarian Jews don’t consider themselves followers of Judaism and don’t identify themselves as belonging to the Jewish nationality.

Magyarorszag a magyaroke

Hungary is for Hungarians/Jobbik campaign poster

Thus, the article concludes that Viktor Orbán’s reference to “the Jewish minority” is “strange.” I would add that most likely a lot of Hungarian Jews will take exception to being called a minority which is ostensibly different from the mainstream. They don’t want special protection. They simply do not want to be abused by loud and aggressive anti-Semites who until now at least could do practically anything they wanted in the Hungarian Parliament. Perhaps from here on there will be greater determination by Fidesz-KDNP and the government to put an end to that sorry state of affairs.


  1. @ Kurt Volker
    A disgusting performance by the ex-American ambassador to Hungary on Egyenes Beszed. A total sop to Orban’s positions.
    Volker has probably been entrusted with some sort of message for Orban. We’ll see..

  2. I wish someone would explain to me exactly what a Jew(ess)is? I have always believed them to be members of the Jewish faith, which states that one is not a Jew unless one is born of a Jewish mother and practices the faith. When did it become a race/nationality/ethnicity, and how far down the line from the last practicing Jew must one be in order to no longer be considered a Jew?

  3. I don’t really understand what is the JOBBIK’s intention with cranking up anti-Semitism in their rhetoric. So far it seems these will not help their numbers. Are trying to take the temperature of the Hungarian society to see how much hate speech should they employ to get supporters? Because if we assume a shred of intelligence and we also assume this wasn’t just a rogue MP making idiotic speeches then what’s the purpose? Are they really this stupid?

  4. Mutt Damon: It’s not only anti-antisemitism they are cranking up… The latest Jobbik plan is to submit a motion in the Parliament to modify the Criminal Law to punish “promotion of homosexuality” by jail, and fine homosexuals who hold hands or kiss in public. They also want to modify the right to assembly in the Constitution, stipulating that in Hungary everyone has the right to peacefully demonstrate, except homosexuals.
    I can just hope that this motion won’t even be considered in the Parliament.

  5. @ Jobbik’s intentions..
    It should be clear by now that Jobbik’s intentions are not their own: they are Orban’s intentions. Jobbik serves as a foil; as a warning for what’s next if there is a move on Fidesz. Jobbik is an instrument of Fidesz, nothing more.

  6. Never assume that the two wings of the Hungarian Right are stupid – only that their logic is much more complex and devious than would be expected on the part of people like ourselves, who have absorbed enough of Anglo-Saxon democratic habits to be writing here in English.
    As I’ve said before, there are key differences between Fidesz and Jobbik, but what truly unites them is the need for a continual “war with Oceania” social paranoia. If the world is seen as invariably and unrelentingly hostile to Hungary, and that the Hungarian people can only eat their own beautiful patriotic sorrow, it benefits not only the nationalist chialism of Jobbik, but even more so Fidesz, who can continue with their depredations against the working public while they spout empty populist rhetoric about “standing up to the banking vultures” et al. So from this standpoint, a public blood-libel statement, coming directly at the scheduled pogrom-season in the traditional peasant calendar, could only be expected to set off yet another storm of condemnation in the international press, to be echoed back in the patriotic media as “hatred for Hungary.” It seems, at least from what I’ve seen of it, that fortunately the world press didn’t take the bait, meaning that the respectable and the barking mad factions of the Right now have to squabble openly with each other, rather than appearing to stand firm against the viciously anti-Hungarian remainder of the planet. But alas, not for long.
    So much for the simple explanation. My other theory behind this squitter of verbal diarrhoea is that there may be an international dimension to this. I’m referring to the world’s most openly anti-Semitic state, theocratically dominated Iran. Yes, the rumours of Jobbik receiving money directly from Teheran are only rumours – but what is clear is that they admire the bloke who looks like young Orban for his stance on gays, Jews, and everyone else. And as the situation in the Near East worsens, there is a clear advantage in making Hungary seem like an Iranian mole inside of NATO.

  7. I feel actually as much as Orban is very much willing to offend many elements of society and disregard the views of world public opinion, this current Government has largely been sensitive to charges of anti-Semitism, and I do not believe (for all of their faults) anti-Semitism is one of them.
    To reinforce the point of his sensitivity to this issue and his recognition of the third rail nature of it in modern European politics, Semjen and Orban actually invited and hosted Rabbi Solomo Koves yesterday at the Parlement.
    To refer to Jews as a minority is wrong, but to claim that Orban or FIDESZ really messed this up is also wrong. In fact, the whole incident will probably serve to put a slight wedge between Jobbik and Fidesz, and allow Jobbik to keep the hard core racist vote.

  8. Professor you report that Orban Victor classified people of the Jewish faith and people descended from people of the Jewish religion as a ‘Minority’. This has been done to allow the Government to ‘Identify’ the members of this ‘minority’. As minorities are different in some way from the ‘majority’ they pose some sort of threat to that majority because they do not fully conform. Any they must next be ‘marked’ in some way so all of the majority will know each individual of that minority.
    There is a similar process occurring with other ‘Minorities’ who do not conform to the ‘norms’ of the ‘Majority’. So far the ‘Majority’ has singled out the homosexuals mainly the male homosexuals. Later on they will identify all sorts of ‘non-conforming’ folk. The likes of which could include scuba divers, stamp collectors, nudists, etc. In fact any person or group that do not conform to the idealised ideas of the behaviour of majority.
    Long ago in one of my jobs when a project ended I had identified all parts left over which were solely related to that project. These then had to be marked. When this had been done, the last phase of the process was undertaken. This was to collar and destroy the lot.
    I little OT if someone wants to cause problems for the present Hungarian Government I suggest you petition the European Parliament asking that it should examine the pronouncements of the leadership of Jobbic to see if the party qualifies as one which forbidden under the Treaty of Paris 1947 (UNO treaty register no 644)
    The section of that treaty which might apply is Part II (Political Clauses) Section 1, Article 4. This reads as follows: –
    “Hungary, which in accordance with the Armistice Agreement has taken measures for dissolving all organisations of a Fascist type on Hungarian territory, whether political, military or para-military, as well as other organisations conducting propaganda, including revisionist propaganda, hostile to the United Nations, shall not permit in future the existence and activities of organisations of that nature which have as their aim denial to the people of their democratic rights”.
    If the European Parliament finds that Jobbik qualifies then the European Parliament should instruct the Hungarian Government to dismantle Jobbik!

  9. Petofi1 about Volker. It was an incredible performance. He was even imitating members of the Hungarian government by saying only half-truths.
    When discussing the case of Tünder Handó he mentioned that George W. Bush also nominated a personal friend of his to the Supreme Court. The only thing he failed to mention was that the lady was forced to withdraw because of the public outcry that followed the nomination.

  10. Ms KKA: ” wish someone would explain to me exactly what a Jew(ess)is? I have always believed them to be members of the Jewish faith, ”
    Who is Jewish is always in the eye of the beholder. For the Nazis, a parent who was Jewish (one parent Jew) considered to be Jewish. Families were broken apart, and half Jewish kids were deported to concentration camps.
    I found the best explanation form Rabbi Lerner. THis article discusses the different ways of looking the Jewish identity, and where the “only of the mother is Jew” coming from.

  11. I believe that the game Fidesz is playing here is rather more subtle. When an anti-semitic incident takes place or anti-semitic words are spoken, the first strategy is to try to get by without reacting, and when they react they always wait just enough to allow for a nudge and a wink towards those who agree with the incident, or they allow coded language — “left’, “liberal”, “cosmopolitan” are some of the key words, as when the Archbishop of Veszprem recently wrote against “cosmopolitan” financiers — to pass without comment.
    Beyond these code words, Fidesz has been very artful in coloring their opponents as Jewish or semitophile, for example when they attacked the SzDSz as the “only party which would not elect a Jewish Chairperson” (implying that this was done out of fear of confirming the prominence of Jews in their membership, when everyone understood that (a) a Jewish Chairperson would have been a massive PR target for the far right, and (b) none of the other parties, Fidesz included, were electing a Jewish Chairperson either.

  12. An,
    The very act of submitting that bill could actually provide legal grounds for the disbanding of Jobbik. Act XVIII/1947, which codified and incorporated the Paris peace treaty into the Hungarian legal system, says that Hungary must not allow “the existence and operation of organisations whose aim is to deprive the people of its democratic rights”. Now, an attempt at denying homosexuals the right of peaceful demonstration can only be interpreted as a curtailment of democratic rights, which, as stated above, should result in the disbanding of the party whose representative has submitted the bill (unless the party officially distances itself from the proposition, which hasn’t happened so far).

  13. Tyrker makes a a very interesting point at 10:52. THe question remains although “”Who will guard the guards themselves?” Does the EU can step in, or who steps in when it is the government itself that nurtures “to deprive the people of its democratic rights”? Are democratic rights universal or since Hungary is member of the EU, Hungarian democratic rights should be as in the EU?
    Charter of Fundamental Right of the EU
    Article 9
    The right to marry and the right to found a family shall be guaranteed in accordance with the national laws governing the exercise of these rights. [Meaning however a country defines what marriage is]
    Article 21
    1. Any discrimination based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited.

  14. Ms KKA: ”
    In Israel persons born of a Jewish mother or converted in an orthodox rabbinical court are considered Jews.
    In Hungary the law discriminating Jews during the Horthy period before the German occupation were strikter in defining who is a Jew than the Nürnberg Laws (1935)
    In Hungary sometimes somebody who is not a member of a Jewish community and who has no Jewish mother is considered by many people as Jewish. By the way the word Christian is used in Hungary quite often as synonym for Non-Jew.

  15. Ms KKA:”I have always believed them to be members of the Jewish faith, which states that one is not a Jew unless one is born of a Jewish mother and practices the faith.”
    You were wrong. One can also convert to Judaism. And the practice of the faith is not necessary.
    Obviously, this is how Orthodox Jews define who is Jewish.
    There are other definitions, for example the ones the Nazis in various countries (such as Hungary or Germany) used.

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