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MIMC Organisation Founding Member Corrects Misleading JTA Op-Ed

MIMC Organisation founding member and historian László Bernát Veszprémy has written a reply to Ira N. Forman, who called Hungary antisemitic in an opinion piece written for JTA. Veszprémy’s article, titled “Hungary and Antisemitism: A Reply to Ira N. Forman” appeared in the Times of Israel Blog Section. The full article can be read below.

I read with great interest the recent opinion piece of Ira N. Forman about Hungary and antisemitism on the JTA’s website.

Forman criticised with great passion a recent article by Hungarian journalist Zsolt Bayer that appeared in a conservative daily.

Forman believes that Bayer’s article, which was an attack aimed at Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was an antisemitic piece because it referred to Blinken as “rootless”.

Forman drew the conclusion that because Bayer is a member of the ruling Fidesz party, the article conveys the opinion of the whole Hungarian government, and analysing the article is enough to present a picture of antisemitism in Hungary today.

I am not trying to debate Forman’s criticism towards Bayer, but as a Holocaust scholar and the deputy editor-in-chief of Hungary’s largest Jewish news portal, I’d like to cite a few facts here that were missing from Forman’s opinion piece.

The Hungarian Jewish community is one of the largest communities of mainland Europe.

Last year, according to the data collected by the Action and Protection Foundation (Tett és Védelem Alapítvány, TEV), 30 antisemitic incidents happened in Hungary, most of them were instances of hate speech. (TEV’s website currently only has the data for the first half of 2020, which shows 16 cases, but they have told me the final number in an interview which I have published here).

During the same year, 1668 cases were recorded in the UK (data by CST), 135 in the Netherlands (data by CIDI), 2351 in Germany (German gov’t statistics) and 585 in Austria (IKG data). As for the United States, 2024 atrocities were recorded, according to the ADL.

Of course, even one antisemitic incident is one too many, but the numbers, I believe, speak for themselves: Hungary has far fewer antisemitic incidents than the other countries cited here, including Forman’s own homeland, the United States.

It is also important to add that the recent manifestations of violence and hate speech, witnessed in many Western cities, were completely missing from Budapest. Two pro-Palestinian demonstrations were held, both minor events, with no examples of violence. Jewish counter-demonstrators showed up, then both groups left in peace.

As for Hungary’s foreign policy, heavily criticised by Forman: missing from the article was the fact that Hungary’s foreign policy is consistently and adamantly pro-Israel. Only a few weeks ago Hungary vetoed a draft resolution accepted by every other country in the EU, including other pro-Israel countries (Czechia, Slovakia, Austria, etc.).

This resolution, according to news reports, would have condemned both Hamas and the State of Israel for the recent escalation of violence and rocket attacks.

Hungary was the only country in the EU which stood against this, making clear that one cannot treat terrorists and a Western democracy alike.

One might find fault with Hungary’s foreign policy in other fields, such as relations to Moscow, and I’m not here to try and explain that.

But from a Jewish perspective, Hungary’s pro-Israel foreign policy stance must not be omitted.

Forman, unfortunately, does not speak Hungarian, and relies on websites exclusively focused on attacking the Hungarian government.

Again, fair criticism of Hungary is completely justified, but these websites – such as Éva S. Balogh’s Hungarian Spectrum, cited by Forman for a translation of Bayer’s article – are not only solely concentrating on the negative aspects, but are also strangely silent about one truly alarming phenomenon: the alliance between Hungary’s far-right Jobbik and the left-wing opposition, struck to defeat PM Viktor Orbán in the upcoming elections.

This alliance has produced hair-raising results: in one recent instance, during the October 2020 Borsod county by-elections, the entire Hungarian left-wing opposition supported a local Jobbik candidate, László Bíró, who had previously referred to Budapest as “Judapest”, and wondered on Facebook if Jewish tourists might give his dog fleas. (JTA was one of the few decent news portal which did cover the scandal.)

As for the upcoming April 2022 elections: the entire left-wing is supporting a Jobbik candidate running against Orbán’s Fidesz party in the city of Dunaújváros, Gergely Kálló. Kálló a few years ago has written a letter to the violent neo-Nazi organisation Betyársereg, declaring his support for the vigilantes.

This piece of news is completely missing from the entirety of the international left-wing press, including ones focused on Hungary like Balogh’s Hungarian Spectrum.

In fact, Balogh wrote an article speaking positively of Kálló, without mentioning the tiny detail that merely three years ago this politician was openly supporting a neo-Nazi skinhead group.

The Hungarian Spectrum is not a source to be trusted. Last year Balogh translated one of my very own articles, in which I, as an ex-resident of Amsterdam, stood up for gay rights and women’s rights in the Netherlands.

Balogh, however, mistranslated my article, and wrote that I, in fact, stood up against gay rights and women’s rights – the complete opposite of what I wrote!

It is good that American Jewish public figures are interested in Hungary.

Hungarian Jewry should be studied in detail, the facts should be known, and antisemitism should be called out wherever it raises its ugly head.

But a pundit must know where to look for reliable sources and should, of course, speak the language of the country he or she is writing about.

I believe that these facts could have made Forman’s article more balanced.

Veszprémy has originally sent this article to JTA’s opinion section, but JTA has failed to reply.