Hungary's Jews Rail Over anti-Semitic Magazine Cover Targeting Their Community Head

A Viktor Orban-affiliated business magazine depicts the president of the Hungarian Jewish Federation surrounded by bills falling around him, days after Netanyahu praised Hungary's prime minister for combating anti-Semitism

The front page of Hungarian magazine 'Figyelo' with a portrait of Andras Heisler, head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities.
AFP

Just a few days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his Hungarian counterpart for fighting anti-Semitism, the Jewish community in Hungary is railing over a magazine cover featuring what many say is an anti-Semitic depiction of the head of the Hungarian Jewish community.

The Hungarian business magazine Figyelo published Thursday a cover depicting showing of the president of the Hungarian Jewish Federation surrounded by bills falling around him.

The story featured on Figyelo magazine's cover – a pro-government publication whose owners are close to Prime Minister Viktor Orban – claimed Hungarian Jewish Federation President Andras Heisler was involved in alleged financial mismanagement.

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Netanyahu's political adviser spoke to Hungary's ambassador to Israel and condemned the attack on Heisler. Netanyahu's adviser told the ambassador that Israel requests the Hungarian government condemn all instances of anti-Semitism.

Opposition head MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union) condemned the publication, saying that "the Israeli government must immediately condemn this anti-Semitic attack and go back to being at the helm of the fight against anti-Semitism. Whoever hurts our brothers, hurts us."

The American Jewish Committee also condemned the magazine. “Jews with money is a familiar, disgraceful anti-Semitic trope,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker, AJC Director of International Jewish Affairs and a special envoy on combating anti-Semitism for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog issued his own criticism of the magazine, saying "this unacceptable stereotypic smear must be rejected and fought by all persons of good will."

The Jewish community in Hungary is split over the founding of a new Holocaust museum which Orban plans to inaugurate next year to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Hungarian Jews to death camps in German-occupied Poland. More than half a million Hungarian Jews were killed during WWII.

The Hungarian government is funding the museum, which will be owned by the Jewish organization known as EMIH, the United Hungarian Jewish Congregation, headed by Chabad-affiliated rabbi Slomo Koves.

The project, called the House of Fates and first announced in 2014, has drawn criticism from many, including Israel's Yad Vashem and from Heisler over concerns that it will downplay the wartime role of Hungarians in the persecution and deportation of Jews, misrepresent history and become a political tool for the right-wing nationalist Hungarian government.

“We repeatedly asked for a full ‘screenplay’ of the exhibition so that we could responsibly take part in this project. We never received that,” Heisler told Bloomberg in October.

Government supporters say that Orban has already acknowledged the crimes of his country toward Jews during the Holocaust and is not whitewashing the issue. In 2017, after meeting Netanyahu in Budapest, Orban said:"During World War II, Hungary did not comply with this moral and political requirement. This is a sin, because at the time, we decided that instead of protecting the Jewish community, we chose collaboration with the Nazis,” Orban continued. “I made it clear to [Netanyahu] that this can never happen again. In the future, the Hungarian government will protect all its citizens.”  

But Orban's attitude toward his country's past and its Jews is more complicated. The Jewish community offered scathing criticism in 2017 after Orban praised Miklos Horthy, who served as the regent of Hungary during most of World War II and who cooperated with the Nazis. Orban called Horthy and other Hungarian leaders "exceptional statesmen" for leading the country after the traumatic disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the wake of World War I. Orban also waged a campaign against Hungarian-born Jewish business magnate George Soros.  

On Tuesday, Netanyahu praised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's commitment to combatting anti-Semitism, telling CNN in an interview: "I saw Orban in Hungary, he’s opened up a center against anti-Semitism."