Hungarian rabbi rejects Hanukkah greeting from anti-Semites

Rabbi from Budapest rejects Hanukkah greeting from the far-right Jobbik party.

Ben Ariel and JTA ,

Jews in Hungary
Jews in Hungary
Yoni Kempinski

A prominent rabbi from Budapest rejected an unusual Hanukkah greeting from the far-right Jobbik party, citing its anti-Semitism, JTA reported Thursday.

Rabbi Slomo Koves, leader of the Orthodox Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, spurned the greeting from the party's chairman, Gabor Vona, in an open letter published on Wednesday.

“It’s a nice idea, but to show a genuine gesture toward Jews, Jobbik needs first to take some actions to distance itself from the wealth of evidence proving it is an anti-Semitic movement,” Koves wrote.

He later told JTA it was the first such “appearance of a gesture,” as he defined it, by Jobbik to the Jewish community.

Jobbik, Hungary’s second most popular political party, is blamed for much of the anti-Semitism which remains prevalent in the country.

In November of 2012, one of Jobbik’s members released a statement saying that a list should be compiled of all of the Jewish members of government.

He was followed by another Jobbik member who called publicly for the resignation of a fellow MP who claimed to have Israeli citizenship.

Koves noted several other anti-Semitic incidents involving Jobbik members, including a public vow made in 2014 by Vona himself to “immediately resign if somebody found out I had Jewish ancestry.” Last year he reaffirmed the statement in an interview.

Over the past year and a half, Koves said, “Jobbik has played a double game: Paying lip service to democratic values to pass off as a people’s party and reach power, while winking at its audience not to take this seriously.”

Despite its history of anti-Semitism, Jobbik last year began shifting from xenophobic rhetoric to language with more positive messages, painting the party as not corrupt and in touch with the working class.

However, “they have not in the past attempted to appear as reaching out to the Jewish community, so this is the first such case,” Koves told JTA.

“I would have been happy to accept their greeting, but I’m afraid at this point it can only be taken as an empty move that we cannot accept, which I am sure is designed to be used as propaganda,” he added. “If Jews accept their greeting, they can use it to show they’re not so bad. And if we reject, they can use it to show they tried but those nasty rabbis didn’t want to talk to them.”

To be taken seriously, the rabbi said, “Jobbik would have to reject their many, many anti-Semitic statements, replace the anti-Semites who run the party today.”