The main entrance of the Hungarian parliament building
The main entrance of the Hungarian parliament building January 4, 2011. Photo by AP
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AP
The main entrance of the Hungarian parliament building January 4, 2011. Photo by AP

A far-right Hungarian lawmaker was urged to resign Wednesday after making a speech in Parliament that was widely criticized as anti-Semitic.

In his speech, Zsolt Barath criticized the verdict in a well-known, 19th-century court case that had found several Jews innocent of murdering a Hungarian peasant girl. That verdict stoked anti-Semitism in Hungary at the time and led to disturbances in cities across the country.

On Tuesday, Barath of the far-right Jobbik party commemorated the case by claiming the judge had proof of the defendants' guilt but succumbed to pressure to acquit them to avoid seeing Hungary bankrupted by international financiers.

Janos Fonagy of the governing Fidesz party accused Barath of opening "centuries-old wounds" with his speech.

Two opposition groups, Politics Can Be Different and the Socialist Party, urged Barath to resign.

"We cannot tolerate barely concealed anti-Semitism within the walls of Parliament," Politics Can Be Different said in statement, describing Barath's speech as an "incitement falsely made to appear as a history lesson."

Rabbi Slomo Koves of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation said Barath should face a parliamentary ethics committee.

"It is our daily experience that increasingly coarse, racist and anti-Semitic speech is becoming permissible in the Hungarian Parliament," Koves said. "In our judgment, the gravity of the situation is unprecedented in the past two decades of Hungarian democracy. Anti-Semitism has escalated to a point which cannot be ignored by a single decent person."

The Jobbik party won nearly 17 percent of the vote in Hungary's 2010 election and is the largest opposition party behind the Socialists. Its popularity has been based on an extreme nationalist message with strong anti-Roma and anti-Semitic overtones.

An estimated 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and about 100,000 of the country's 10 million people are now Jewish.