Hungary Asks Journalist to Return Award

Hungary has asked a journalist who made anti-Semitic remarks to return an award he had been decorated with.

Elad Benari ,

Anti-Semitism (illustration)
Anti-Semitism (illustration)
Israel news photo: archive

Hungary has asked a journalist who made anti-Semitic remarks to return an award he had been decorated with, Bloomberg news reports.

The country’s Human Resources Minister Zoltan Balog, has reportedly asked journalist Ferenc Szaniszlo, who he decorated last week, to return the award at the request of Israel and the U.S., which cited Szaniszlo’s racist and anti-Semitic views.

Balog awarded the Tancsics prize on March 14 to Szaniszlo, a television journalist who incited hatred against minorities, including Jews, with his “anti-Hungarian conspiracies,” according to a 2010 media regulator ruling.

Balog said after awarding the prize that he didn’t know about Szaniszlo’s racist views but explained that did not have the power to take it back, as Israel had requested.

Szaniszlo said in a February 11, 2011, report on Echo TV that Hungary is suffering from “gypsy terror” and has been torn into “three parts” -- Hungarian, Jewish and gypsy -- and that “at the end someone will have to leave.”

The station was fined 500,000 forint ($2,124) by the media regulator for violating human dignity and laws banning incitement to hatred, reported Bloomberg.

In another program in 2010, Szaniszlo claimed Israel had been created by the West as a bastion against Arab-Muslim countries, but that it would lose its importance as such once the region’s oil and gas run out.

“The western world needs to reckon with … emptying Israel,” Szaniszlo said. “It can be expected that the Jewish population from Israel … will need to be gradually relocated to Europe and the United States.”

“I immediately publicly acknowledged that I had made a bad decision,” Balog told Szaniszlo in a letter published by state news service MTI late Tuesday. “Since I have no other means, I ask you to return the Tancsics prize I awarded you in error.”

The award casts “a shadow” on Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s efforts to combat racism and hate speech, U.S. Ambassador to Hungary Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis said in a statement.

Israel's ambassador to Hungary, Ilan Mor, said on Monday that the award to Szaniszlo was given "to the wrong person for the very wrong reasons."

"His ideas do not belong in a free and democratic society like the one in Hungary," Mor said in a statement.

"While Israel and Hungary are cooperating in fighting against anti-Semitism, such awards might cause [a] negative impression and lead us to the wrong direction," he added.

Jewish groups last year criticized Orban’s government for appearing to legitimize anti-Semitic views amid a surge of support for the neo-Nazi party Jobbik. The Cabinet denied the charges.

There has been a surge in anti-Semitic remarks in Hungary. Jobbik recently made headlines for several anti-Semitic statements by its officials. In late November, a far-right deputy from the party called publicly for the resignation of a fellow MP who claimed to have Israeli citizenship.

The comments came after another member of Jobbik In released a statement saying that a list should be compiled of all of the Jewish members of parliament and government.

In 2012, Nobel peace laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel returned Hungary's highest state honor because of what he called a "whitewashing" of history in the European Union member state.