Is Hungary Anti-Semitic?

Momentmal // CC

Walking around any Hungarian city, if someone is so inclined, it is not uncommon to stumble upon a lot of uniform posters. Billboards with a blue overtone are usually spotted stretching imposingly over the streets, warning passers-by about certain dangers.

Absent refugees were cautioned to respect Hungarian values, in Hungarian, with the obvious aim of scaring locals against immigrants. EU President Juncker looked austerly from posters apparently wanting to fill Hungary to the brim with migrants. Ubiquitous image of Hungarian-born billionaire Geroge Soros was smirking sinisterly behind him. Soros even got his own stand-alone billboards on previous occasions, so as people are not left in the dark about is Machiavellian plan to… What exactly was his plan again?

The governmet’s information poster campaign, which hinted a Soros plan to settle immigrants into Hungary, was often attacked for its anti-Semitic undertones. George Soros plays right into the Jewish stereotype.

A wealthy Jewish investor with some social agenda, giving grants to NGOs, and speculating on the market. Never mind that the Hungarian governing party, Fidesz, and many of its politicians benefited from Soros’ money, and the high-quality education of the Soros-funded university, Central European Univeristy. The Hungarian government attacked Soros, using imagery and slogans reminescent of the anti-Semitic propaganda of the 1930s.

How come then, going against general EU trends, anti-Semitic attrocities are decreasing in Hungary?

Despite its many faults, the ruling Hungarian government is not anti-Semitic. On the contrary, it has an outstanding foregin relationship with Israel, and with many Jewish groups.

The party in power, Fidesz, did, however, run a xenophobic and islamophobic campaing against immigrants, often strewn with consipiracy theories and dowright lies.

Identifying a foe always does wonders for uniting people and boosting one’s popularity. The main enemy of the Hungarian government’s was immigrants. But the figurehad, the purported mastermind behind the refugee crisis was, supposedly, Geroge Sorors.

Without question, Soros was attacked using the same stereotypes anti-Semtism builds on, but the strategy adopted in the campaign was much more nuanced and thus does not allow for simply deeming it simply anti-Semitic.

In fact, throughout Europe, a considerable portion of the Jewish population looked upon refugees with some, not unjustified, trepidation. A lot of immigrants come from the countries where anti-Semitism is a generally accepted phenomenon, and there is no reason why these sentiments would be left behind when refugees from these countries are crossing into Europe.

This is partly the reason why certain Jewish groups in Hungary support the government, despite its anti-Soros campaign (not to mention Soros’ stance on Palestine, which is not exactly in the good books of a lot of Jewish groups).

So far the fears that immigrants will increace anti-Semitic sentiments are not backed up by data. Albeit anti-Semitic attrocites in Westen Europe are increasing, these are committed by far-right groups. And although anti-Semitism is still a problem among refugees, this has not yet contributed to a spike in attacks. Yet.

Therefore, the fact that in the West anti-Semitism is increasing whereas in Hungary it shows an opposite trend cannot be explained by the lack of immigrants in Hungary. In all probability, the shrinkage of the far-right movements contributed to this joyous downward trajectory.

Jobbik, a former extremist party, moved closer to the center, and the politicians who left the party due to this change failed to gain enough traction with their newly fromer far-right group.

The Hungarian government is not anti-Semitic. It is populist. Playing right into the fears of people is a typical populist strategy. It builds on the same fears as anti-Semitic campaigns do, true, but despite the same foundations, the end results are somewhart different. This is, of course, not to say that any fear- and hatemongering would be okay.

Populists in Hungary exploit not only people’s misgiving about seemingly shady businessman, but also fears of Jewsih groups about growing anti-Semitism as a consequence of Middle-Eastern immigrants. It is, therefore, counterproductive to mislabel the government as anti-Semitic, as its communication campaings should be interpreted as purely populist by nature, without any racial or ideological agenda, despite all the hatemongering campaings.

If the majority has an inherent fear for a certain stereotype, Hungarian populists will exploit it. Even changing the government wouldn’t change the underlying trepidations of people. 

And this is where the change should begin.

Mate Hajba
Free Market Foundation