Vote for Orban or a party with a neo-Nazi record? Hungary’s Jews torn apart in Sunday’s election

JTA — Hungary is holding one of the most dramatic general elections in its history, which is why Peter Pretz has given serious thought to how he will vote on April 3.

The 64-year-old Jewish dad and father of five from Budapest has finally made up his mind: He’s voting for the Two Tailed Dog Party, which was created in 2006 as a parody, with campaign promises of free beer and eternal life .

“I prefer to vote for a real party,” said Pretz, who said he takes “the right to vote very seriously” because he grew up under communism. “But for the first time, I have no choice.”

This feeling, which many Hungarian Jews seem to share, is the result of a new political reality in Hungary.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing populist government is in a tight race for power with a newly established alliance of opposition parties – the largest contingent of which comes from the far-right Jobbik party, which many see as a neo-Nazi movement .

The alliance, called United for Hungary, includes groups from all political walks of life, and it took the unorthodox decision to announce a candidate for prime minister ahead of the election, selecting a centrist without much political background. in a clear signal that she intends to rule from the middle if he overthrows Orban.

Hungarian Jews celebrate the opening of a new synagogue in Budapest on August 27, 2021. (Cnaan Liphshiz via JTA)

But that doesn’t change the fact that the success of the opposition alliance would give Jobbik, Hungary’s second largest party, more power than it has ever amassed before.

Jobbik, whose accusation is institutionally racist, is responsible for multiple anti-Semitic scandals, and Mazsihisz, Hungary’s largest Jewish group, has called the party “anti-Semitic” and “fascist”.

Pretz is among Hungarian Jews — a minority of at least 47,000 with many political liberals — who won’t even consider voting for the Fidesz party of Orban, a nationalist accused of corruption, money laundering and complicity. xenophobia in the era of the Holocaust, including against Jews. But neither can he bring himself to vote for the opposition because of Jobbik.

“I am the descendant of Holocaust survivors. How could I vote for the fascists? Of course I can’t,” Pretz told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Some of Jobbik’s 600 members set up the far-right ‘Magyar Garda’ or Hungarian guard stand during their swearing-in ceremony in Budapest, Hungary, October 21, 2007, wearing black uniforms with a variation on red and – White Arpad stripes associated with Hungary’s World War II Nazi-aligned Arrow Cross Party (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky

In 2012, one of Jobbik’s lawmakers asked parliament to register all Jews in Hungary. This legislator, Marton Gyongyosi, now represents Jobbik in the European Parliament.

Peter Jakab (Wikipedia)

Current party leader Peter Jakab, a Catholic of Jewish descent, in 2014 accused Jews of anti-Semitism and misusing Holocaust memory for financial gain. His predecessor, Tamas Sneider, is a former skinhead who confessed to beating a Roma in 1992 with metal cables in an allegedly racist attack.

Despite this record, in 2019 Jobbik joined veteran and hardline left-wing parties such as the Green Party and the Hungarian Socialist Party in an opposition alliance that is now running against Orban’s party under the United for Peace ticket. Hungary.

Jobbik has attempted to soften its racist image, including sending Hanukkah greetings to prominent Hungarian rabbis. “The kind of anti-Semitic expressions that have taken place in Jobbik before are impossible to imagine,” former party leader Gabor Vona said in 2017.

Hungarian liberals, Jews and leaders of the Jewish community remained skeptical of this volte-face by Jobbik leaders, especially since it coincided with new racist scandals.

The astonishing cooperation between parties on diametrically opposite sides of the ideological spectrum that for years have expressed seething hostility toward each other has been both unexpected and controversial. He spurred defections and condemnation of extremists from his two main contingents.

It also drew external criticism, notably from Orban, for the perceived moral elasticity of its members.

But the alliance was effective beyond dispute in threatening Orban’s leadership. His party won the 2018 elections 30 points ahead of second-placed Jobbik. Now, for the first time in 12 years in government, Orban faces the prospect of losing his grip on power.

The polls give United for Hungary 45% of the vote, just 5 points behind Orban. If the Two Tailed Dog Party, which is not in the alliance but is hostile to Orban, crosses the 5% electoral threshold and then joins a coalition with the alliance, Orban could be ousted and Jobbik installed in power.

If that happens, Hungary will become “a fascist country” for Tomi Rosza, a 52-year-old Jewish financier and father from Budapest who plans to vote for Fidesz on Sunday.

If the opposition alliance, “which is indeed completely contaminated by Jobbik, wins, we will make aliyah,” he said, using the Hebrew word for immigrating to Israel. “If that happens, I don’t want to stay here.”

Eszter Sinko is also considering aliyah as part of the election, but she said she plans to pack her bags if Orban is re-elected. Her main complaint against Orban’s government is the corruption she and others are seeing, she said.

She can vote for the opposition alliance, even if she thinks Jobbik is anti-Semitic, or for the Two Tailed Dog Party. “It’s very sad,” Sinko, a 47-year-old finance professional, said of the political situation in her country.

Even Orban’s Jewish voters are critical of some of his policies involving Jews. Rosza, for example, believes Orban encouraged the whitewashing of Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust with his support for a monument erected in Budapest in 2014. It depicts an eagle attacking an angel against the backdrop of the Nazi occupation of the Hungary.

Rosza is among many Jewish critics who see the statue as an attempt to portray Hungary, whose pro-Nazi governments helped murder hundreds of thousands of Jews, as mere victims. Orban rejected this interpretation of the statue, which was erected despite strong Jewish opposition.

This problem prompted Mazsihisz, the largest Jewish group in Hungary, to suspend all relations with the government and even drew criticism from EMIH, a Chabad-affiliated Jewish group that tended to be friendlier than Mazsihisz towards Orban. (Chabad, an Orthodox Hasidic movement, tends to seek to work with governments of any stripe, as long as they don’t threaten Jews.)

Both Jewish groups enjoy considerable government funding and have opened at least 20 new synagogues between them under Orban. Many Hungarian Jews welcome this revival and the fact that at a time when anti-Semitic violence dominates the headlines across Europe, such incidents remain rare in Hungary.

Yet Jewish voters like Pretz feel as uncomfortable with Fidesz as they do with Jobbik.

“On the right leg of Fidesz they are too close to the fascists,” Pretz said.

Orban has come under attack, including from representatives of the Jewish community, for rhetoric they fear encourages anti-Semitism, including during the government’s 2017 and 2018 campaign against Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros, a major donor to liberal causes who criticizes Orban. . (Soros is a frequent target of anti-Semitic criticism.)

This poster depicting US billionaire George Soros in Szekesfehervar, Hungary reads: “We can’t let Soros have the last laugh.” It was part of a government campaign on July 6, 2017. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images)

Rosza rejects these allegations, arguing that, in his view, Fidesz generally does not allow anti-Semitic speech and generally has a low tolerance for this form of racism.

He also supports Fidesz tax cuts, financial support for large families to encourage reproduction, restrictive immigration policies, and opposition to the teaching of progressive ideas about race and gender in schools. schools, Rosza said.

But most Hungarian Jews don’t seem to support Fidesz, Rosza said. “They traditionally support the left. Even when the left allies itself with the fascists. I can’t understand it,” he said. (There are no polls on the voting habits of Hungarian Jews, who make up less than 1% of the population.)

Judit Csaki, a Jewish cultural journalist from Budapest, offered an explanation.

“At least half the country thinks Orban is so bad that anyone who opposes him must be better,” she said. Russia’s war against Ukraine, in which Orban took a less firm stance against Vladimir Putin than the rest of the European Union, to which Hungary belongs, further illustrated this,” said Csaki, 65. .

“I vote for the opposition of course because I want this to end,” she said. “It’s very bad for the country, for my moral scale and for the cultural sector in which I work.”

And what would she think of Jobbik politicians gaining real power as ministers?

“It depends on the ministry,” she said. “And at least it won’t be the whole country in the hands of Orban like it is now.”