Hungary Jews face rising anti-Semitism
Editor of Hungarian Jewish newspaper says applications at branch of Israel's immigration agency have hit record high following rise in prejudice against Jews in media and political life, vandalism and open hostility on street. 'Older Jews, Holocaust survivors and their children are afraid,' he says
A report by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) on Friday showed that anti-Semitism has got worse across Europe over the past five years, facilitated by social media and file-sharing websites.
But it was Hungary, France and Belgium that reported the highest rates of anti-Semitism in the media and in political life, as well as vandalism and open hostility in the street, the study showed.
The report was released ahead of the anniversary last weekend of the Night of Broken Glass pogrom, which saw Nazi thugs smash up Jewish businesses and synagogues throughout Germany in 1938.
"Older Jews, Holocaust survivors and their children are afraid... Older people really don't feel at ease," Janos Gado, an editor with Hungarian Jewish newspaper Szombat, told AFP.
Applications at the local branch of Israel's immigration agency have hit a record high, he added.
"Most people won't emigrate unless the situation gets worse, but emigration does now get talked about," said Gado, whose name has been listed on far-right websites alongside other prominent Jews.
Rahel Veisz, a Hungarian Jewish mother of two, told AFP: "I'm often sitting in a taxi or at a cafe and suddenly overhear how the Jews are running the country and so on."
A study by Andras Kovacs from Budapest's Central European University showed 24% of people in Hungary had anti-Semitic prejudices in 2011, up from 10-15% over the previous 20 years.
Kovacs pinned much of the blame on the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party, which won 17% of the vote in 2010 elections. One of its deputies even called in parliament for a list of Jews to be drawn up for "national security reasons."
Hungary, which lost some 600,000 Jews during the Holocaust, still has a 120,000-strong community but anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise recently.
In the past two years, Hungary's chief rabbi was verbally abused on a Budapest street, anti-Semitic chants were heard at a football match against Israel and pig's trotters were placed on a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Budapest Jews in World War II.
"Anti-Semitism is a disturbing example of how prejudice can persist through the centuries, and it has no place in our society today," FRA director Morten Kjaerum stressed in the agency's report on Friday.
For Rabbi Ferenc Raj, head of a Jewish congregation in Budapest, the nationalist rhetoric adopted by Prime Minister Viktor Orban has created an atmosphere in which anti-Jewish sentiment can thrive.
"They allow anti-Semitic statements to enter the public domain."
The government has defended itself by pointing to Holocaust memorial events and new legislation outlawing denial of the Shoah.
But attacks on foreign banks and companies that supposedly harm Hungarian interests "can be understood by the far-right that Hungary must be protected against Jews," said Gado.
"On a bus recently, a young father pointed to some English-speaking passengers and told his five- or six-year-old child, 'Those are foreigners, our enemies'," Raj recalled.
Some authors with Nazi links are now on school reading lists.
The government has also tacitly nurtured nostalgia for Miklos Horthy, Hungary's leader during World War and an ally of Hitler, with statues and streets newly dedicated to him, Rabbi Zoltan Radnoti told AFP.
Still, there is a silver lining: In parallel with the hostility, local Jews say their community is as vibrant as ever, with a growing number of synagogues and a wealth of Jewish cultural events.
"The anti-Semitic renaissance is going hand in hand with a Jewish renaissance," said Gado.