In front of me is an issue of Spiegel from Fall 2010. One article from the well-known German organ bears the title: “Budapest: The New Capital City of Anti-Semitism”. Also before me are two very recent news items: Hungary was one of the few European countries that abstained from condemning Israel at the UN for her self-defense on 13th June 2018. And Cnaan Lipshitz of the Times of Israel published a piece which compared anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary and the United Kingdom. His article, published 9th June 2018 and unlike Spiegel’s piece, an honest article, wondered how Hungary, widely “reviled” for its right-wing policies, could produce zero anti-Semitic assaults against its Jewish population of 100,000 last year while British Jews, numbering 250,000, had to endure 1382 attacks.
The articles clearly show the biased media reporting towards Hungary which had been more common than not among international organs in the early 2010s. Seeking to absolve themselves of their Holocaust guilt and in a vain effort to whitewash the many downsides of multiculturalism, Western European newspapers largely depicted Hungary – and other Eastern European nations – as raging anti-Semites, ready to pounce upon their Jewish minorities were it not for the sheltering hand of the European Union. At the same time, something began to fester within the open societies of Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin. Synagogues were attacked; rabbis and children were assaulted or even murdered and the political climate turned openly hostile against Israel. As a Hungarian historian and journalist of Jewish ancestry I am in no way happy to see Western Europe unsafe for Jews again. But the disparity finally shows and the facts speak for themselves. Hungary today is one of the most consistent supporters of Israel on international forums; Hungarian Jews, one of the largest communities in mainland Europe, are largely safe and enjoy religious freedom: and conservative Hungarian organs offer a far more balanced view on Israel’s daily struggle for her existence than many of the conventional and “accepted” Western dailies.
In the 1930s there was a Hungarian Jewish newspaper that bore the title Zsidó Szemle (Jewish Review). It was for a time affiliated with the Revisionist Zionist movement, the right-wing Zionist stream that is usually seen as the predecessor of today’s Likud. A number of famous Hungarian journalists and scholars published in this organ, among them my great-grandfather, a linguist from a Jewish family from a town which is part of today’s Romania. In 1937, a few years before the Holocaust engulfed much of the Hungarian Jewish community, Zsidó Szemle published an editorial that was full of hope for the future of Hungarian-Jewish relations. In a tone which today could be seen as naïve for its time, the article explained: “Both peoples are highly devoted to their national aspirations and to their national independence. Both peoples face a hostile environment and have in the past sacrificed many of their sons in their struggle for existence. Jews and Hungarians, both of them ancient peoples hailing from the Orient, have found little understanding among the nations of Europe and have never quite gained a place among their respected ranks. Perhaps in the near future Zionism and Hungarian nationalism will find a common tone; perhaps as Jews are fleeing Berlin and Frankfurt and Munich and the hopes placed in Western enlightenment are increasingly shattered, these two different, yet so similar nations will learn to cooperate on a larger, more meaningful and historical level. A new era of Hungarian-Jewish relations is upon us.”
The article was certainly wrong about the subsequent decades. Hungarian-Jewish relations hit an all time low during the Holocaust, inflicting wounds upon our coexistence that would not heal even until today – and perhaps never fully will. Yet if we were to change the date of the publication to 80 years later, each and every word of the text would ring true. Certainly, both Hungary and Israel have to deal with powerful foes that would like to see their national self-defenses crumble. Both nations are under constant and biased scrutiny and international attacks – most of which are undeserved and greatly unfair. And in turn, the two countries have started to cooperate on a scale that we could not have dreamed about mere years ago.
I trust that in the future Hungarian-Israeli relations will further improve and that we can add to this positive and inspiring process. I trust that through our work the world will learn to see Hungary and Israel as they truly are: vibrant national democracies unjustly smeared by their opponents – who fare incomparably worse in terms of respect for human rights and liberties than the countries they would seek to slander. I believe that with honest media reporting, careful analysis and authentic representation we can help the cooperation between Israel and Hungary and the other V4 countries as they move into what the Jewish Review predicted many-many years ago: a new era of Jewish-Eastern-European relations.