When one in five people in a key European state votes for a neo-Nazi party, you might expect a furious response from the United States, the country that played a decisive role in defeating the Nazi menace during the Second World War. And you might also expect that American Jews would be leading the chorus of condemnation.
But none of the major American Jewish organizations seems particularly angry about the strong showing of the neo-Nazi Jobbik party in the recent Hungarian elections. Jobbik, which glorifies the wartime collaborator regime of Admiral Miklós Horthy, operates a paramilitary arm, demonizes Roma gypsies as “genetic rejects,” and scorns Jews, in the words of one of their frankly insane parliamentarians, for “playing with their tiny circumcised dicks,” won a handsome 21 percent of the poll on April 6.
Of course, how you respond to any political phenomenon depends on how you understand it. In some ways, Jobbik’s agenda reflects the concerns of the European far right more generally: anti-European Union, anti-immigrant, homophobic, and terrified of anything that smacks of a multi-cultural society. When it comes to strategy, all these parties have tried, with some success, to compel the center-right to adopt more extreme positions in order not to be outflanked. In Hungary, that partly explains why Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who won a second consecutive term in the election, has never been pressured to end his association with Zsolt Bayer, a neo-Nazi writer who regards Jews as “stinking excrement” and believes that the Roma are “unfit for existence.”
In other ways, however, Jobbik—which is now the strongest far-right party in Europe—stands apart from similar parties and groups. While some European far-right parties have toned down their anti-Semitism for tactical reasons, and focus a greater proportion of their ire on Muslims, Jobbik is proudly, unabashedly anti-Semitic—and therefore deserving of more than just the standard press releases that American Jewish leaders delight in issuing.
Jobbik’s anti-Semitism is flexible enough to incorporate some of the more recent phases of this ancient hatred. The party is a strong supporter of the Iranian regime and openly advertises its “anti-Zionist” credentials. And like the many advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, Jobbik views “Zionism” as a catch-all term for Jewish control of finance, the media and politics (historically aware readers will recall that the Soviet Union did exactly the same thing, which is why you can understand Jobbik and its politics as a merger of the extremes of left and right.) As Marton Gyongyosi, one of the leaders of Jobbik’s parliamentary group, put it in the Budapest Times, “We have criticized Zionism as a global phenomenon and the way it functions in the world today.”
This is the same Marton Gyongyosi who told a rally in Budapest last year that Hungary “has become subjugated to Zionism, it has become a target of colonization while we, the indigenous people, can play only the role of extras.” At the same rally, Gyongyosi’s boss, Jobbik leader Gabor Vona, warned, “The Israeli conquerors, these investors, should look for another country in the world for themselves because Hungary is not for sale.”
With around 100,000 souls, Hungary’s vulnerable Jewish community is also the largest in central-eastern Europe. And Jobbik is not the only political force that the community should fear. In an interview with the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Shlomo Koves of Budapest cited a study by the Central European University that showed that “extreme anti-Semites” are found among the voters of mainstream parties, like Prime Minister Orban’s Fidesz, as well as in the ranks of Jobbik. In other words, the unthinkable—that a European state might once again persecute its Jewish community—is rapidly becoming thinkable. Indeed, in November 2012, we were treated to a glimpse of what this might look like when Gyongyosi published a list of Jews he deemed to be a “national security risk,” an action he justified with reference to the Israeli operation against terrorists in Gaza in the same month.
What American Jews need to understand is that Jobbik is a mass phenomenon that is now well poised to infect the politics of other European countries. Sadly, too many in our community believe that the only moral challenge we face is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. They worry that our Hillels aren’t “open” enough, they fret at any statement that isn’t sugarcoated with interfaith, intergroup platitudes, but they can’t stomach the idea that anti-Semitism is again in the ascendant. As a result, they live in denial, waffling on about how Jewish ethics are compromised by Jewish power.
But as I’ve argued before, we Jews have, in the United States and other countries, political influence and power. We have the State of Israel. And if we weren’t embarrassed by those facts, we’d be ready to strike at the Jobbiks of this world.
Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, Jewish Ideas Daily and many other publications.