Hungarian Elections Show Rightward, anti-Semitic Shift

Growing support for racist Jobbik party reflects wider trend in Europe, not necessarily connected to burgeoning Muslim populations there.

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Elderly Hungarian women cast their ballots inside a polling station during parliamentary elections in Veresegyhaza near Budapest April 6, 2014.
Elderly Hungarian women cast their ballots inside a polling station during parliamentary elections in Veresegyhaza near Budapest April 6, 2014.Credit: Reuters

Hungary shifted rightward in its national elections on Sunday. Prime Minister Viktor Orban won a second, four-year term and his conservative Fidesz party garnered 45 percent of the vote, giving it a two-thirds majority in the new 199-member parliament. But the big winner was the far-right, anti-Semitic party Jobbik, which increased its share in the vote from 16 to 21 percent and may yet become the second-largest party in the country if the fractious alliance of five left-wing parties fails to cobble a coalition together.

For Orban the election is a victory for populist policies, for a confrontational attitude toward the rest of the European Union, and for foreign investors who have objected to the government’s increasing control of the economy. Likewise the election also shows the failure of the left, which attracted only one-third of voters, to deliver a coherent message and to come up with a new agenda.

Indeed, it is the success of Jobbik in this important central European country that above all underlines a greater openness among voters to nationalism, xenophobia and racism. Party leader Gabor Vona predicted Sunday that in the next elections Jobbik would take power.

The rise in party fortunes has been achieved in part by a face-lift: an effort to downplay Jobbik's anti-Semitism (Vona’s deputy called in 2012 for the government to draw up lists of Jews who pose a "national security risk") and its incitement against the Roma (gypsies), and to launch a slick, Internet-based campaign focusing on nationalist messages – demonizing instead the EU, the International Monetary Fund and globalization in general as obstacles to Hungary’s prosperity. Whoever voted for Jobbik could not have failed to be totally aware of the party’s past positions.

Is this a yet further proof of growing anti-Semitism in new Europe? Polls show that around a third of Hungarians believe that Jews control the global economy, but that is not new. Beyond such a belief, the most distinct racist trait of Jobbik is the deep hatred of the Roma people. The party's main success was in the east, where large communities of gypsies live; indeed, Jobbik brought in as much as 30 percent of the vote in certain districts there.

Violence toward Roma in Hungary, including terror and murder, continues despite government plans to integrate them into society; for their part, local authorities often turn a blind eye to such crimes. At the same time, the country's Jewish community – numbering around 100,000 and concentrated mainly around relatively liberal Budapest where Jobbik did not poll as well – has experienced little violence.

The rise of anti-Semites in Hungary has yet to result in a noticeable increase in Jewish emigration, in general, or immigration to Israel. The Jewish community leads a relatively comfortable life: A survey financed last year by the EU showed that while there is growing awareness among local Jews of anti-Semitism in their country, identification with their homeland remains deep. The growing support for Jobbik is part of a wider trend encompassing many countries on the Continent from Ukraine and Greece in the southeast, where xenophobic Svoboda and neo-Nazi Golden Dawn have surged, to France where the Front National lead by Marine Le Pen made significant gains in last month’s local elections.

Contrary to the perception of many outside Europe, the rise in the power of nationalist and racist parties and in anti-Semitism is not necessarily connected to the growth of Muslim populations there. The Muslim presence in Hungary, Ukraine and Greece is negligible, while in countries such as France,

Holland and Belgium, far-right parties have emphasized anti-Muslim sentiments while also trying to engage local Jewish communities and to express support for Israel in an attempt to erase their anti-Semitic image.

“Muslims in Europe are involved in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe disproportionately when considering [their numbers in] the general population,” says Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, a leading researcher of modern anti-Semitism, “but the majority of such attacks are not carried out by Muslims."

European anti-Semitism, he adds, "is still connected much more to the Continent’s history and culture than demographic changes. The rise in recent years is due to a vacuum caused by the fall of communism in the east and the decline of religion in the West. The space has been taken by various pseudo-religions including anti-Semitism.”

Data show that racists in most European countries target other minorities, such as Muslims, gypsies and recent immigrants, than Jews.

The Orban government, for its part, has heretofore energetically pursued improved relations with Israel and is very aware of the damage Jobbik has caused Hungary’s image; the government has warned that there will be no tolerance for any physical attacks on the Jewish community.

The Hungarian ambassador to Israel, Andor Nagy, was quick to publish an op-ed on Monday in Israel's mass-circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, promising that Jobbik would never become part of the government in Budapest.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most worrying factor in Jobbik’s success, as with other like-minded European parties, is its popularity especially among young voters. They are attracted by promises of better employment and are not necessarily put off by hatred of Jews and gypsies.

Members of Jobbik, a Hungarian far-right party, attending the inauguration ceremony of the 'Hungarian Guard' in Budapest, August 25, 2007. Credit: Reuters

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