World Jewish Congress (WJC) President Ronald S. Lauder strongly denounced anti-Semitism and criticized Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party in his keynote address in front of thousands at this year’s ‘March of the Living’ in Budapest in commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust.
“The March of the Living reminds us what happens when the world is silent,” said Lauder on Sunday, April 12 to the crowd of over 10,000. “We will never be silent again. And when it comes to anti-Semitism, the Hungarian government must never be silent.”
“Today, when the world looks at Hungary, it does not see its great culture. It does not see its beautiful cities. It does not remember its great and glorious past,” continued Lauder, adding: “Today, the world sees Hungary, and it sees Jobbik. It sees an extremist party that promotes hate.”
On its website, Jobbik calls for fighting “Zionist Israel’s quest for world domination." In the past, some of its leaders questioned whether the Holocaust took place and called for drawing up a list of Jewish lawmakers who may pose a “national security risk.” In 2013, the party held a protest rally against the World Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly in Budapest.
Later on Sunday, the Jobbik party scored a narrow victory in a by-election, marking a breakthrough in its challenge to the Fidesz party of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. With more than 99 per cent of ballots counted, Lajos Rig, Jobbik’s candidate, topped the poll in the district of Tapolca, with 35.3 per cent of the vote.
Rig's margin of victory was narrow, but his win was symbolically enormous, according to a BBC report. ."The mood in Hungary is for a change of government and with Jobbik Hungary finally has a force to change the government,'' party leader Gabor Vona told supporters in Tapolca.
It re-enforces their reputation as the most successful nationalist party in Europe and is another setback for Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban. "There are times when the ball hits the post," said Mr Orban, a keen footballer, on his Facebook page as he admitted defeat.
The BBC reported that Fidesz easily won the last national and European elections in 2014, when Jobbik took around 20% of the vote. But since then the governing party has seen its reputation falter, with allegations of corruption, and opposition to measures like a planned internet tax and limits on Sunday trading.
“There is a force in Hungary capable of replacing the government and it is Jobbik,” Vona said. “Jobbik is Fidesz’s challenger. Today in Hungary Jobbik is the opposition force.”
Jobbik first entered parliament with 16.7 per cent of the votes in 2010, assisted by the since-banned Hungarian Guard which wore black uniforms and held intimidation marches against the Roma in Hungary’s poorer areas.
In 2014, the party gained 20.2 per cent of the votes partly by projecting a more sympathetic image and avoiding extremist views, like the anti-Semitic or anti-Roma statements made earlier by party politicians.
“I take responsibility for pruning our own wild sprouts and everyone, including Fidesz and the Socialists, should tend to their own gardens,” Vona said. The Socialists are the leading left-wing opposition party.
In his speech, Lauder also condemned acts of anti-Semitism. “There are statues of shoes along the Danube. They are there as a memorial to the Jewish people who were murdered there. No-one has the right to spit in those shoes. No-one. In this great city we send one clear message to the entire world: The Hungarian Jewish community is alive and well. And the Hungarian Jewish community is not going anywhere. We march today to say: We are here. We are alive. And here we will remain.”
Of the damage that the Jobbik party is doing to Hungary’s reputation abroad, Lauder said: “They may think they are true Hungarians trying to save Hungary. But Jobbik hurts Hungary. In the eyes of the rest of the world, people see Jobbik, they see an extremist party that promotes hate. Jobbik does not even realize that they hurt Hungary’s future. Today, when the world looks at Hungary, it does not see its great culture. It does not see its beautiful cities. It does not remember its great and glorious past. Today, the world sees Hungary and they see Jobbik.”
Speaking of the destiny of his family who originally hail from Hungary, Lauder said, “I stand here today as a proud Jew. Proud of my ancient heritage. Proud of my people. Proud of what we have created. I am also proud of my Hungarian heritage. But I know that if my grandparents had not left Hungary, if I had born here in 1944, I would have been one of the tens-of-thousands of Jewish children gassed at Auschwitz. That is why we are here today. That is why we march together. Not just because of what happened 70 years ago, but because of what is happening here today.”
About 560,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, most of them in 1944. Today, Hungary’s Jewish community numbers around 100,000 and it is still the largest in Central Europe.
Lauder highlighted the contribution of Hungarian Jews to their country. “Jews helped make this country great. When Jews are part of a society, any society, countries prosper. Jews win Nobel prizes. Jews create jobs and they cure diseases. Jews build -- they don’t tear down! Anti-Semites tear down, they destroy, they create nothing, they save no-one. And when Jews are forced to leave, they take their success with them,” he told the crowd in central Budapest.
Hungary has seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks over the past several years, many of which were perpetrated by members and supporters of the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik.
In November of 2012, one of Jobbik’s members released a statement saying that a list should be compiled of all of the Jewish members of government.
He was followed by another Jobbik member who called publicly for the resignation of a fellow MP who claimed to have Israeli citizenship.
Last summer, at the height of Israel’s counterterrorism Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, a town mayor linked to Jobbik was filmed ordering the hanging of effigies of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres in protest against the conflict.
Earlier Sunday, Lauder said in an interview with The Associated Press that he was “concerned” about the rise of the far right in Hungary.
Young people, said Lauder, have been flocking to Jobbik, which specifically rejects Jewish and Israeli investment in Hungary, but the party's supporters are not necessarily all anti-Semitic themselves, he said.
The ‘March of the Living’ in Hungary is organized every year by the March of the Living Foundation, with the support of the MAZSIHISZ, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary.