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

Share

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

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'