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05/03/2013

Jewish Congress heads to Hungary in wake of anti-Semitic protest

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Children attend a Jobbik Party rally in Budapest in 2012. The banner on the stage reads “Get away thieves. This is my country.” (Rick Westhead/Toronto Star)

Hungary has attracted attention for the rise of its right-wing political parties, whose message of anti-Semitism and discrimination has struck a chord with the country's down-on-their-luck residents.

In November, Marton Gyöngyösi, the leader of Hungary's Jobbik Party, said 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.”

Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, calls itself “a principled, conservative and radically patriotic Christian party.” It won nearly 17 per cent of the vote in the 2010 national elections, making it the third largest party in parliament with 47 of 386 seats. Its purpose is “protecting Hungarian values and interests."

This weekend, the global Jewish community is pushing back.

The 14th General Assembly of the World Jewish Congress will take place in Budapest from Sunday to Tuesday. Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban is scheduled to speak at the conference during its first day, although it's unclear what sort of response he'll draw.

WJC President Ronald S. Lauder in April wrote an op-ed in the German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung charging that Orban has "lost his political compass" and "often tells the right-wing fringes what they want to hear." Hungary, he says, according to a report in Der Spiegel, is on a "dangerous wrong path."

The conference topics also include the rise of far-right ideologies and freedom of religion and the event is expected to be attended by some 500 delegates, according to a report on Politics.hu.

Predictably, the far-right in Hungary is upset over the conference.

Lorant Hegedus Jr., a Calvinist priest and Jobbik party member is advising his colleagues that an “Anti-Bolshevik and anti-Zionist people’s gathering” will be held in the Hungarian capital. Jobbik is planning a demonstration to coincide with the conference's opening day.

According to one Internet report, the protest is "a revenge of sorts" for the ban of an anti-Semitic rally dubbed “Give gas” -- a clear reference to the Nazi gas chambers of World War II -- that was planned by a group called "Patriotic Motorcyclists" for the same day as the April 21 Holocaust memorial march in Budapest.

Rick Westhead is a foreign affairs writer at the Star. He was based in India as the Star’s South Asia bureau chief from 2008 until 2011 and reports on international aid and development. Follow him on Twitter @rwesthead

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