A call in the Hungarian parliament for Jews to be registered on lists as threats to national security has sparked international condemnation of Nazi-style policies and a protest outside the legislature in Budapest.
The parliamentarian, from the far-right Jobbik party, dismissed demands on Tuesday that he resign, however, and said his remarks during a debate on Monday had been misunderstood. Marton Gyongyosi said he was referring only to Hungarians with Israeli passports.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside parliament, many wearing the kind of yellow stars forced on Europe’s Jews in the 1940s and some chanting “Nazis go home” at Jobbik members.
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban issued a statement on Tuesday condemning the remarks by Gyongyosi, whose party surged into parliament two years ago on a campaign drawing on suspicion of Roma and Jewish minorities and attracting support from voters frustrated by economic crisis.
“The Hungarian government condemns in the strongest possible terms remarks made by Jobbik’s Marton Gyongyosi in parliament,” the statement said.
“The government is opposed to all expressions of extremism, racist or anti-Semitic, and does everything in its power to combat it.”
But in Jerusalem, the Simon Wiesenthal Center criticised the government for a tardy response, more than 16 hours after the event, and called the failure to penalise Gyongyosi “a sad commentary on the current rise of anti-Semitism in Hungary”.
About 500,000 to 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in the Holocaust, according to a memorial centre in Budapest.
Some survivors reached Israel. About 100,000 Jews now live in Hungary.
‘Tally up Jews’
Gyongyosi’s intervention in parliament on Monday afternoon came after discussion of last week’s fighting in the Gaza Strip and after a junior minister at the foreign ministry had made a statement to the house saying the government favoured a peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict as it would benefit Jews and Palestinians in Hungary and Israelis of Hungarian descent.
The Jobbik member, one of 44 in the 386-seat parliament, said: “I know how many people with Hungarian ancestry live in Israel and how many Israeli Jews live in Hungary.”
In his remarks, a video of which Jobbik posted on its party website, he went on: “I think such a conflict makes it 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.”
The deputy speaker chairing the debate is a Jobbik member and did not intervene. Socialist opposition legislator Pal Steiner, himself Jewish, said on Tuesday: “There was little reaction beyond sheer shock … We couldn’t really digest what we’d heard, we’re so used to remarks like this from Jobbik.”
The United Hungarian Jewish Religious Community, a prominent Jewish organisation, announced it would press charges against Gyongyosi.
“Jobbik now openly supports Nazi ideology,” said the community’s leader Rabbi Schlomo Koves, urging “concrete action from the government and the political parties to reject this Nazism in parliament.”
Gyongyosi later indicated he was questioning the loyalty of Hungarians who held dual Israeli citizenship. In a posting on Jobbik’s Web site, he said: “I apologise to my Jewish compatriots for my declarations that could be misunderstood.”
At a news conference reported by national news agency MTI he said he would not resign and considered the matter “closed”.
“Hungary need not fear Jobbik but rather Zionist Israel and its servants in Hungary,” his party added in a separate statement.