Owen Jones: A visit by the leader of Hungary’s poisonous Jobbik party reminds us that we can’t just wish away anti-Semitism

This bigotry has clothed itself both as anti-capitalism and as anti-Communism


Anti-Semitism sometimes risks being unintentionally disregarded as a sudden eruption of madness in 20th-century Europe, a barbarous era almost too removed from the banalities of our everyday lives to be imagined. How distant from the Europe of 2014 it seems: a Continent of cheap-and-cheerful package holidays, dour Brussels technocrats, the campness of Eurovision, the thrill of the Uefa championships. Almost too difficult to absorb, then, that a few decades ago, educated, “civilised” Europeans were cramming trains full of Jewish civilians, transporting them across the Continent to be exterminated industrially and systematically. There are people alive today who remember waking up in Belsen and Auschwitz, and staring into the eyes of SS guards. Easy to forget, too, that this was the culmination of 2,000 years of anti-Semitic bile and persecution, of centuries strewn with expulsions, pogroms and massacres.

We remember this horror on Sunday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, not simply to mourn the millions who were murdered but to absorb a warning from history. But a warning from the present will fly into Britain the day before, a sobering reminder that the cancer of anti-Semitism still festers, however effectively it has been driven into remission. Gábor Vona, the leader of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, will address a meeting in London to canvass support from Hungarian émigrés in upcoming elections. This arrival of the leader of a poisonous anti-Semitic, anti-Roma movement is bad enough; the timing is an insult.

Like all European countries to varying degrees, Hungary has a past soaked in anti-Semitism that has to be confronted. The failure of its government to properly do so has led Hungarian Jewish groups to threaten to boycott Holocaust Memorial Day. Under the right-wing dictator Miklós Horthy, who ruled the country from 1920 to 1944 and is now lauded by Jobbik as a hero, Hungarian Jews had suffered escalating persecution. First, their jobs were restricted; then they were banned from marrying non-Jews. They were redefined as a race rather than a religion and prevented from voting. They suffered expropriation of their property and murderous persecution. Although Horthy took Hungary into the war on the side of Hitler’s genocidal regime, mass deportations did not come until a German invasion brought out-and-out Nazis to power. Around 600,000 Hungarian Jews would perish, making up around one in 10 of European Holocaust victims.

The rise of Jobbik, then, is frightening: it is the third-biggest party in Hungary’s National Assembly and has three MEPs. Its core vote is not the dispossessed: it enjoys enthusiastic support from sections of Hungary’s professional middle-class. Just over a year ago, the Jobbik party’s deputy parliamentary leader spoke of an impending conflict with Jews, stating that it was “timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.” This perverse suggestion that Jews represent a mortal threat to “the nation” is one of the ugliest and oldest anti-Semitic tropes.

Read more: Editorial - Anti-Semitism is again on the march in Europe
Editorial - It's time the EU got tough on Hungary
Tibor Navracsics - Why is it that Europe stigmatises modern Hungary?

Then there was a newsletter edited by a Jobbik MEP candidate, Judit Szima, which spoke of anti-Semitism as not just “our right” but as “the duty of every Hungarian homeland lover”, calling for Hungarians to “prepare for armed battle against the Jews”. Krisztina Morvai, a King’s College London-educated lawyer who heads the party’s electoral list, once wrote that she “would be glad if the so-called proud Hungarian Jews went back to playing with their tiny circumcised dicks instead of vilifying me”. When the World Jewish Congress came to Budapest in defiance of growing anti-Semitism, Jobbik organised protests against it, ranting against “Israeli conquerors” who should “look for another country in the world for themselves because Hungary is not for sale”.

Members of Jobbik take an oath to join the Magyar Garda, a group pledging to 'defend Hungary physically, morally and mentally' Members of Jobbik take an oath to join the Magyar Garda, a group pledging to 'defend Hungary physically, morally and mentally' Jobbik’s bile is directed at other groups who were murdered in the Holocaust, too. Hundreds of thousands of Roma perished in the Nazi porajmos, and travelling communities remain a fashionable target of hatred across Europe, including in Britain. The paramilitary wing of Jobbik, the Hungarian Guard, has harassed and intimidated members of Hungary’s 800,000-strong Roma community. Gay people are on the Jobbik hitlist, too: in 2012, it proposed a bill to make “promotion of sexual deviations” illegal, with prison sentences of up to eight years. Budapest’s Gay Pride marches are frequently attacked by far-right thugs.

Jobbik isn’t alone, of course. As Greek society has been dismantled by austerity, the Jew and immigrant-hating neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has flourished amid despair. Muslims are today’s favoured targets of hatred for the far-right, but the centuries-old hatred of Jews still casts a sinister shadow. That is why there’s nothing funny about the likes of Nicolas Anelka’s quenelle gesture, or clownish Tory MP Aidan Burley organising a Nazi themed stag-do for a friend.

Anti-Semitism is a shapeshifting bigotry. It has clothed itself in anti-capitalist rhetoric, with rants against Jewish bankers and financiers that led the 19th-century German socialist August Bebel to talk of the “socialism of fools”. It can posture as anti-Communist, too, with rants about Jewish Bolsheviks, a staple of Jobbikism. The horror of the Holocaust certainly turned the tide. But there is still two millennia of European anti-Semitism to be unlearned, as an unwelcome visitor will remind us this weekend.

Read more Owen Jones: Sorry, David Blunkett - but Russell Brand has a point

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The landslide vote for gay marriage takes Irish society further away from the Vatican  

Ireland gay marriage: Church's decision not to lead No campaign recognised remarkable new reality

Paul Vallely
New SNP MP Mhairi Black distinguished herself in Westminster straight away when she made herself a chip butty in the canteen  

The SNP adventure arrives in Westminister - but how long before these new MPs go native?

Katy Guest
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?