Hungary's ultra-nationalist Jobbik party, the country's main opposition, is ditching its roots as a far-right, anti-Semitic group to target mainstream voters and challenge the ruling Fidesz party for power in the 2018 elections.
"If we disagree, we want to be able to criticize Israel like we criticize Sweden or Germany, but naturally we respect its right to exist, form its own identity and opinions and articulate its interests," Jobbik leader Gabor Vona told Reuters.
In future, Jobbik will treat Israel like any other nation, said Vona, who sent Hanukkah greetings to Hungary's Jewish community last month.
"If you want to govern you need to partner with all religious and other groups," Vona added. "I will do the same thing (send greetings) in the next holiday season, too."
Jobbik has openly vilified Jews, gays and foreigners, and its paramilitaries used to march through areas where Roma people live. It also favored forging ties with Russia, Iran and Turkey rather than the European Union, of which Hungary is a member.
Vona acknowledged that his party had a lot to atone for. But he insisted that the shift would yield substantial political results, elevating Jobbik to government sooner or later.
He said the party's new "modern conservatism" borrowed both from progressive and right-wing agendas, such as environmental protection and wage equality across the EU, and countries growing their economies without relying on immigrant workers.
"We are growing out of our teenage years," he said. "So many times teenagers realize, wow, I was so wrong... (Jobbik) may be a teenager who collided with brick walls a few times before realizing life is not black and white."
Vona also drew a stark contrast between his own party and the authoritarian Fidesz, which has put pressure on independent media and plans to "sweep out" civil society groups.
"Independent institutions, checks and balances ... it may be hard to imagine but a Jobbik government would create a far more democratic political system in Hungary than Fidesz has built in the last seven years," he said
Jobbik scored about 10-13 percent in the latest opinion polls, while Fidesz' support was about 31-36 percent. A large chunk, about 40 percent of the population, is undecided.
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