BUDAPEST/NEW YORK (EJP)—An extreme-right Hungarian parlementarian was urged to resign after making a speech in the Parliament that was widely considered as anti-Semitic.
Zsolt Barath, from the Jobbik party, invoked an infamous blood libel that led to incitement against 19th century Hungarian Jews and linked it with another classical anti-Semitic stereotype about Jewish control of international finance.
Barath claimed in his speech that the Jews who were accused in 1882 of ritual murder after the disappearance of Eszter Solymosi, a Christian peasant girl from the village of Tiszaeszlar, were found innocent only because the judge worried that international bankers – code words for “Jews” – would push Hungary into bankruptcy if the Jews were convicted.
The trial of 13 Jewish defendants, held in an atmosphere rife with anti-Semitic propaganda and agitation, has come to be known by historians as the Tiszaeszlar Blood Libel.
Two opposition political groups, Politics Can Be Different and the Socialist Party, urged Barath to resign. “We cannot tolerate barely concealed anti-Semitism within the walls of Parliament,” Politics Can Be Different said in statement, describing Barath’s speech as an “incitement falsely made to appear as a history lesson.”
Janos Fonagy of the governing Fidesz party accused Barath of opening “centuries-old wounds” with his speech.
Rabbi Shlomo Koves of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation said Barath should face a parliamentary ethics committee.
“It is our daily experience that increasingly coarse, racist and anti-Semitic speech is becoming permissible in the Hungarian Parliament,” the rabbi said. “In our judgment, the gravity of the situation is unprecedented in the past two decades of Hungarian democracy. Anti-Semitism has escalated to a point which cannot be ignored by a single decent person.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in New York called on the Hungarian government to “fulfill its pledge to punish hate speech in parliament.”
“Throughout the centuries, blood libels have led to mob violence and pogroms against Jewish communities, especially during the Easter holiday when Jews were routinely singled out for persecution,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director.
ADL welcomed the Hungarian government’s condemnation of Barath’s comments as “absolutely unacceptable” but called on government leaders to take further action, noting that Janos Lazar, the Fidesz party caucus leader, had pledged in July 2011 that the government would create a legal means to punish anti-Semitic and anti-Roma slurs in parliament.
“The government now needs to fulfill its pledge to punish hate speech in parliament,” said Mr. Foxman.
In a February 2012 opinion poll of anti-Semitic attitudes in Hungary, ADL found that 63 percent of the population holds anti-Semitic views, up from 47 percent in 2009.
Three out of four Hungarian respondents agree with the statement, “Jews have too much power in international financial markets” and 38 percent of Hungarians believe that “The Jews are responsible for the death of Christ.”
The Jobbik party won nearly 17 percent of the vote in Hungary’s 2010 election and is the largest opposition party behind the Socialists. Its popularity has been based on an extreme nationalist message with strong anti-Roma and anti-Semitic overtones.
An estimated 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and about 100,000 Jews live today in the country.