Hungarian Jews collect money, food for Middle East refugees

Hungarian Jews have collected about $5,000 and half a ton of food and nonperishables for refugees from the Middle East.

In the collection drive on Friday, the Mazsihisz umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities and its youth department gathered food and nonperishables at three depots in Budapest, including a synagogue and Jewish community center.

“There are currently between 100 and 150 Hungarian Jews that I know of involved in the relief effort,” said Zoltan Radnoti, chairman of the Mazsihisz rabbinical council.

Hungary has been one of the main entry points into the European Union by tens of thousands of migrants from the Middle East, including many refugees from Syria and Iraq, where sectarian violence erupted and has been ongoing since 2011.

Last month, as international media outlets produced jarring reports about thousands of deaths by people who perished at sea or on land en route to Europe, thousands of migrants moved into Hungary – a European Union member state – from neighboring Serbia, which is not part of the European Union. Many crossed into Hungary to continue to richer EU countries north of it, and Hungarian authorities in some instances helped the migrants cross into Austria.

Some 340,000 migrants from the Middle East have crossed into the European Union this year, according to United Nations figures.

Evoking the lessons of the Holocaust, several prominent European rabbis, including the chief rabbi of France, Haim Korsia, and the former chief rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, have urged European governments to treat the migrants generously and find a solution to their plight.

“As Eastern European Jews, we carry the knowledge of how it feels to flee our homes,” Radnoti told JTA.

Hungarian Jewish leader raps rabbinical conference in Budapest

A representative of Hungarian Jewry criticized the organizers of a rabbinical conference in Budapest for not postponing the forum with national elections nearing.

Andras Heisler, president of the Mazsihisz Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary, leveled his criticism in a statement sent Monday, the opening day of the two-day biannual convention of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe.

“Mazsihisz is looking with concern at the rabbinical conference, which is planned at the peak point of an elections campaign,” Heisler wrote, referencing the April 6 election.

Mazsihisz is embroiled in a dispute over Holocaust commemoration issues with the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose center-right Fidesz party is expected to be reelected easily, according to recent polls.

Mazsihisz boycotted government-led plans to unveil on the 70th anniversary of the Nazi invasion into Hungary a statue that depicts Hungary as an innocent victim on Nazism because the federation said it obfuscated the nation’s  Holocaust-era complicity. The monument, described as a tribute to all victims of Nazism, makes no mention of the Hungarian government’s complicity in the murder of 586,000 Jews during the Holocaust.

The rabbinical conference featured a memorial ceremony on Monday on the banks of the Danube River. Hungarian Defense Minister Csaba Hende and Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos, both of the Fidesz party, were among the 1,000 participants but did not speak.

Rabbi Shlomo Koves, a co-organizer of the rabbinical conference, told JTA he believes any concerns that the conference will be used in the campaign is unfounded, since “the event is not aligned with any party and is meant to celebrate Jewish life in Hungary and show solidarity with the local Jewish community.” He also said he supported Mazshihisz’s criticism of the monument, which Koves called “misleading and very problematic.”

The organizers took journalists to meetings with government officials as well as key opposition figures, including Viktor Szigetari of the newly formed Together opposition party. Szigetari accused Fidesz of “mainstreaming radical anti-Semitism notions with projects like the monument.”

But a Mazsihisz spokesman told JTA the organization feared the rabbinical conference, which includes many rabbis from the Chabad movement, would be used by the government as election propaganda to downplay the dispute with Mazsihisz, and that it would also serve the propaganda machine of the xenophobic Jobbik party, whose rhetoric often features negative references to so-called Jewish interests in Hungary.

“Our concerns are connected to inconsistent information and news coming up in the media concerning the rabbinical conference’s goal,” Heisler said in his statement. “We asked organizers to postpone until after the elections but they refused.”

Co-founder of Hungarian ruling party made anti-Semitic statements, court finds

Hungary’s highest court found that a co-founder of the country’s ruling party had made anti-Semitic statements.

In the June 26 ruling, the Kúria, Hungary’s highest judicial body, rejected a libel suit by Zsolt Bayer, a columnist and one of the co-founders of the Fidesz center-right ruling party.

Bayer sued the radio station Klubrádió and Peter Feldmajer, the former president of the Mazsihisz, the Hungarian Jewish umbrella organization, following the airing of an interview in which Feldmajer said Bayer had made anti-Semitic comments.

In 2011, Bayer published an article on in the newspaper Magyar Hírlap decrying what he described as foreign influence in Hungary. He referred to such people as “human excrement named something like Cohen.”

The high court said the language was “by logic” anti-Semitic and offensive. Bayer was appealing an earlier ruling against his lawsuit.

More recently, Bayer wrote in the Jan. 5 edition of Magyar Hirlap that Roma “are not suitable for being among people. Most are animals, and behave like animals. They shouldn’t be tolerated or understood, but stamped out. Animals should not exist. In no way.”

Amid calls urging Fidesz to distance itself from Bayer, party spokeswoman Gabriella Selmeczi said at a news conference Jan. 8 that the party would not take a position on the basis of an opinion piece.

Fidesz has condemned the ultranationalist opposition Jobbik Party for its anti-Semitism, but Jewish leaders and U.S. officials have said that the rejection of the phenomenon by the party and its leaders has not been forceful enough.