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Safe country? World Jewish Congress fears Hungary will relive 'darkest era in European history'

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On Saturday, the former chief executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber, tweeted: "Large anti-Semitic rally in Hungary by Fascist, Jobbik Party. Same Hungary that Immigration Min Kenny says is a safe country."

Hungary's rising and increasingly powerful extreme right Jobbik Party organized the rally to coincide with the World Jewish Congress (WJC) holding its plenary assembly in Budapest.

 The Conservative Hungarian governing Party, Fidesz, headed by Prime Minister Victor Orban, formally disassociates itself from Jobbik's extremism.

However -- much to the chagrin of such prominent figures as author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel -- Fidesz has honoured anti-Semitic, nationalist figures of Hungary's past, such as Admiral Horthy, the post World War I leader who formed an alliance with Hitler and declared himself a "proud anti-Semite."

That sort of thing so disgusted Wiesel that he returned a medal the Hungarian government had given him.

On Tuesday, the leader of a U.S.-based Jewish organization, Gina Waldman, will be speaking to the members of the Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs from the scene of Saturday's anti-Semitic event, the Hungarian capital Budapest.

The Committee is looking into the status of Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern countries. But it will be an opportunity for MPs to inquire about refugees and potential refugees -- both Jewish and Roma, who are targets of an even greater measure of extremist hate and violence -- from a country Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has insisted is a model of liberal democracy and racial tolerance and harmony.

'Growing ignorance, growing intolerance, growing hatred'

The World Jewish Congress (WJC), headed by Ronald Lauder, certainly does not agree with Kenney.

Here is part of what Lauder said at his opening address to the WJC plenary on Sunday:

Less than one hundred years ago, a quarter of this great city's population was Jewish. Hungary's Jews contributed to the country’s economy, its culture, and its universities as well as its extraordinary tradition of mathematics and science ...[Then] the rise of anti-Semitic parties in the 1920s and the 1930s led to the deportation and gassing of more than 400,000 Jewish men, women and children. A staggering one-third of the 1.1 million Jews murdered at Auschwitz were Hungarian.

After 1920, the government of Admiral Miklós Horthy -- a vicious anti-Semite -- passed successive anti-Jewish laws and aligned itself closely with the Nazis in Germany. And in 1938, the Horthy regime enacted its version of the infamous Nuremberg Laws. The first deportations of Jews from Hungary to concentration camps began in 1941, on Admiral Horthy's watch.

I am recalling these facts now not because we are not familiar with them, but because today we are seeing, once again, growing ignorance, growing intolerance, growing hatred.

Once again we see the outrage of anti-Semitism...

We see that more and more people openly deny the Holocaust, which happens to be one of the most well documented tragedies in history.

We see that a growing number of people actually believe the old canard that Jews control world finance, or the media, or everything.

And we see that Jews again are being blamed for economic troubles.

Today, there are members of the Hungarian Parliament who want the government to draw up "Lists of Jews" who hold public office. That sends out warning signals around the world.

In the press and on television, anti-Semitism and incitement against the Roma minority are becoming commonplace, even accepted. We were shocked to learn that an anti-Semitic TV presenter was awarded a prize ...

And there is this journalist, Zsolt Bayer, who recently called Gypsies [Roma] "cowardly, repulsive, noxious animals." He said they were "unfit to live among people" and called for "dealing with them immediately."

Such words are reminiscent of the darkest era in European history. Let us never forget the Roma were also victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Today, Jews are again wondering whether they will have to leave the country, for similar reasons.

Perhaps because they wonder why anti-Semites like Miklós Horthy are being glorified, and why statues honoring them are unveiled by Hungarian officials?  Perhaps because they wonder if Jews have a future in Hungary?

There are about 100,000 Jews currently living in Hungary. Many are part of a group that returned after the fall of Communism, hopeful for a renaissance of democracy and respect for diversity in their native country. They now feel betrayed.

There are many more Roma in Hungary, perhaps 800,000, and the indignities and horrors they suffer are even greater than those visited upon the Jews.

Over the past dozen years, many Roma (and small number of Jews) from Hungary and other Central European countries fled to a country they thought to be truly a beacon of multicultural diversity: Canada.

The Harper government put almost a complete end to that with its Refugee Reform Bill (C-31). The new rules allow the Minister of Immigration to declare so-called "safe countries of origin" and impose nearly impossible conditions on refugee claimants from those countries.

The Minister put Hungary on that list.

The Third Reich, Jobbik and Levant: all evoke a dangerous 'scourge'

The malicious utterances Jobbik's leader, Gabor Vona, and other speakers made at that well-attended anti-Semitic rally in Budapest, on Saturday, go way beyond anything one might expect in a supposedly tolerant and liberal-democratic society.

Anyone who remembers the rhetoric of the Third Reich will find this all to be eerily familiar.

A key stratagem of this kind of hate-mongering is to make the victims of hate out to be a dangerous, hostile, and exogenous "threat" to the "mainstream" society.

Here in Canada, Sun News' Ezra Levant employed that tactic last fall when he said that the 'Gypsy' "scourge has come to Canada..." and that "Gypsy, as in gyp'ed is a term synonymous with a culture of swindlers and thieves."

Jobbik's demagoguery on Saturday went like this:

"Hungary is under Zionist subjugation ... We are special in Europe, not because we are the most anti-Semitic nation... but because even if all of Europe licks its feet we won't do it... Israeli conquerors, investors and expansionists should look elsewhere because Hungary is not for sale..."

Prime Minister Orban addressed the WJC meeting the next day and condemned anti-Semitism in a general way, but pointedly did not take on Jobbik directly, to Lauder and his colleagues' bitter disappointment.

There is a good reason why Orban tiptoes around the extremists in his own society: he has to compete with those extremists for a growing body of angry and resentful nationalist votes.

The Fidesz government's honouring of so-called 'nationalist' (and Nazi sympathizer) heroes of the past is part of an effort to appeal to the many voters -- especially younger voters -- who are attracted by Jobbik's scapegoating tactics.

Speaking to the WJC meeting on Sunday, Peter Feldmajer, head of the Hungarian Jewish community, said Orban's government shows its ambivalence toward extremist racism when it sees to it that texts by "Hungarian Nazis are included in the national curriculum, thus polluting the souls of our students."

Gina Waldman, whose formal role is President of an organization called "Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa," will be in the Hungarian capital tomorrow when she answers Canadian MPs' questions.

Although the subject will be the Middle East, the MPs should not shy away from asking her about the rise of race hatred in the country from which she will be speaking.

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