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January 7, 2011

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 7, 2011 PAGE 15A By Ruth Ellen Gruber rather than its much more complex, and healthy, reality." BUDAPEST (JTA)--The rise A timely and important of Hungary's far-right Jobbik new book puts contemporary Party has ratcheted up debate Hungarian anti-Semitism into about anti-Semitism in this perspective. Based on studies country and focused attention carried out since the early on the seeming paradoxes of 1990s, "The Stranger at Hand: Jewish life here. Antisemitic Prejudices in Post- On the one hand, a recent Communist Hungary" is the articleinGermany'sDerSpiegd most comprehensive analysis described Budapest as "Eu- to date of the scope and impact rope'scapitalofanti-Semitism,' of the phenomenon. It's just where Jews are "being openly too bad that its $131 price tag intimidated" and making plans will put it out of reach of many to leave the country, potential readers. On the other, Hungary is Written by Andras Kovacs, a home to a flout, ishing and sociologist at Budapest's Cen- multifaceted Jewish life that tral European University who finds vigorous public expres- has devoteddecadestotracking sion in religious, cultural and both the development of anti- even culinary ways, and also Semitismandthedevelopment enjoyshigh-profilegovernment of Jewish life and identity here, recognition, the book presents a highly IsawthismyselfatChanukah complex and sometimes con-. when I munched on latkes at tradictory picture. a Friday night oneg Shabbat, A large part of Hungar- sampled doughnuts at a sit- ian society, both Jewish and down dinner for Holocaustsur- non-Jewish, is convinced that vivors,joined20-somethingsat anti-Semitism has increased a riotous klezmer/hip-hop gig, in Hungary since the fall of and just missed witnessing the communism, Kovacs writes. foreign minister, Budapest's "What is said on the street, mayor and other VIPs help written in newspapers, and light a big menorah set up in heardontheradiocarfanddoes the center of town. give rise to concern," he writes. While anti-Semitism re-"Are the fears legitimate?" mains a serious concern in The answer, he told JTA in this central European coun- an interview, is a mix of yes, no try, Budapest~based Jewish and maybe. writerAdam LeBorwrote inthe Jobbik, with its anti-Semitic Economist, the Der Spiegel ar- rhetoric and virulently anti- ticlewasaone-sideds~reedthat Roma, or Gypsy, political plat- portrayedtheJewishexperience form, won nearly 17 percent of in Hungary "solely through the the vote in April elections and warpedprismofanti-Semitism entered Parliament as Hun- gary's third-largest party. But What is different and much recent evidence Shows that it more alarming, according to has been losing support amid Kovacs, is how the type and divisive internal squabbles, and expression of anti-Semitism is newly imposed legal measures changing within that propor- have clamped down hard on its tion.Foronething, thepercent- once-fearedparamilitarywing, age of political anti-Semites the Hungarian Guard. has grown. These political Still, Jobbik did not emerge anti-Semites, hesaid, are"more fromthinair, andKovacs'sbook urban, better educated and traces the evolution of several relatively younger" than they anti-Semitic trends against a tended to be in the past. shiftingbackgroundofpolitical Jobbik's key leaders, for and social change, example, are youthful,- clean He identifies three main cut, and media and Internet- types of anti-Semitism in savvy--factors that helped Hungary. The first is "classic" enhance their appeal ahead of anti-Jewishprejudice, basedon the April vote. social andreligiousstereotypes Related to this is the way that date back centuries and hate speech among the g~/neral were kept alive, if suppressed, public has been emboldened by undercommunism.Thesecond the open use of anti-Semitic occurs when anti-Semitism and anti-Roma rhetoric by becomesasortof"languageand extreme right public figures. culture" that fosters a general Kovacs calls this a "dangerous anti-Semitic worldview. The dynamic." thirdispoliticalanti-Semitism, He said young people in "where political activists dis- particular frequently seem to cover that they can mobilize lose their inhibitions, and their certain social groups by using use of slurs against Jews and anti-Semiticsloganstoachieve Roma often goes unchecked their own goals." by parents, teachers and other Kovacs' research shows the authority figures. recentgrowthinanti-Semitism "We know that people are to be qualitative rather than muchmorecautiousinexpress- quantitative. Surveys show that ing their prejudices if they think 10 to 15 percent of Hungarians thatitisnotlegitimate,"Kovacs are hard-core anti-Semites, said."Butwhentheyrealizethat while another 25 percent nur- so-called important people use tures anti-Jewish prejudices to this language openly, they feel some degree, they can use it as well. This is Contrary to popular percep- what we feel now in Budapest." tion, Kovacs said, these figures What follows is unclear. So "have increased to some extent far, Jobbik'santi-Jewish rhetoric but not dramatically over the seems aimed at creating a body past 17 years." of like-minded followers rather Ruth Ellen Gruber The Jewish culture festivat in Budapest in 2009 shows the flourishing side of Jewish life in the Hungarian capital, but the city also has been called "Europe's capital of anti- Semitism." than serving as a rallying cry for concrete political action against Jews, according to Kovacs. But could the extreme right eventually elevate political anti-Semitism into a force with significan~ mainstream influence? Kovacs thinks it's unlikely, but ultimately, he writes in his book, it will depend on how Hungary's mainstream cultural and political leaders react to any attempts to~'transform the prejudice that once affected the margins of Hungarian society into a language, culture and ideology." Ruth Ellen Gruber's books include "National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel:A Guide to Eastern Europe," "Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere)," and "Virtually Jewish: Re- inventing Jewish Culture in Europe." She blogs on Jewish heritage issues at http://jewish- By Jasmina Kelemen CARACAS, Venezuela (JTA)--On a balmy tropical evening in early December, a few hundred families, mostly of Moroccan descent, gathered to inaugurate the first phase of what eventually will be a grand, two-story marble shul in a wealthy Caracas neighborhood. Among them, Claudio Be- naim's family beamed as Be- naim stood with Rabbi Isaac Cohen as he recited a-prayer into a microphone and affixed a mezuzah on the synagogue's doorpost. Others admired the new fiat-screen TVs listing daily prayer times. " Outside, young men in khakis bearing walkie-talkies scrutinized everyone entering the new shul, called Tiferet Israel del Este, After another synagogue was attacked in early 2009, a police van was stationed there around the clock, monitoring those enter- ing the building's usable areas. Butthe policevanwas canceled monthsago---=one tangible sign that this community is breath- ing easier after a nadir for the Venezuelan Jewish community following Israel's war in Gaza two years ago. "We feel OK as Jews," said Benaim, a father of three. "As can be seen throughout the diasporas, the community remains and endures." Whether the Venezuelan Jewish communitywill endure is still an open question in a countrywhere the population is dwindling rapidly due to aging and emigration. But the main challenge to the community in the last couple of years--a notably hostile tone from the government of President Hugo Chavezmappears to have subsided. Venezuelan Jews celebrate the opening of a ne~ synagogue Jasmina Kelemen in Caracas last month. During and immediately after the Gaza war of two years ago, local Jews felt in the crosshairs as government de- nunciations of Israeli military actions grew virulent. Chavez demanded thatthe community rebuke Israel for.its conduct in ' Gaza, expelled Israeli diplomats from the country, and reached out to Iranian President Mah- moud Ahmadinejad. Against that backdrop, van- dals attacked the largest and oldest synagogue in Caracas, Tiferet Israel Mariperez, and defaced it with anti-Semitic graffiti. Jews here were shocked by the attack, unusual for a country not known for anti- Semitism. The sophistication of the attack, coupled with two police raids on the community's hub, Club Hebraica, ostensibly in search of aweapons cache, prompted many Jews here and elsewhere to point their fingers at the government. Observers also blamed Chavez for unleashing a surge in anti-Semitic expression among his supporters on state-sponsored media. The president repeatedly called Israel a genocidal s~te, darkly VenezuelanConfederationofIs- warning in one seech that rae!iteAssociations.Untilthen, Israelwas supportig the Ven- Venezuela's f6reign minister ezuelanoppositionadsending had acted as a liaison with the Mossad agents to ssassinate Jewish i:ommunity--stoking him. Governmenl3ponsored concernsthatJewswereviewed media equated Zitaism with as foreigners rather than as Nazismandcalledo local Jews Venezuelan citizens. to publicly denouce Israeli At the meeting, held Sept. actions or risk boyotts. 16, the Jewish confederation Over the last fop months, presented the president with however, Chavez las shifted a detailed list of anti-Semitic his tone, recently ~ying that statements made on state- anti-Semitism haslo place in sponsored TV channels in Venezuela. 2010 and requested that he "Revolutionaris ~cannot make clear that his remarks be anti-Semites," thavez said criticizing Israel should not during a rally for he United be interpreted as an attack SocialistPartyofVeezuelajust against Jews. They also asked prior to legislative lections in forarestorationoftiesbetween late September. Venezuela and Israel. Community menbers as- "Forus, nothavingrelations cribethechangetozlinterview with Israel is a major problem, that Fidel Castro, tie one-time not a minor problem," said Sa- leader of Cuba aad one of Iomon Cohen, president of the Chavez's communst heroes, Jewish confederation. "Israel is gave to an Americm reporter our spiritual center:' inSeptemberinwhi:hhemade Chavez said he would con- statementsrejectinlanti-Sem- sider the requests, according to itism. A few days ater the in- thosepresentatthemeeting, but terview was publisted, Chavez he has yet to offer a formal re- requested a meetirg with the sponse. However, anti-Semitic main Jewish comnunity or- expressions in state-sponsored ganization in the ountry, the media have subsided. ~r "Chavez himself publicly cline by half, to approximately rejected anti-Semitic mani- 10,000, over the past 10 years. festati0ns, and fromthis mo- That time also coincides with ment, the situation has 'im- Chavez's presidency, when proved,' with anti-Semitism rising crime, a deteriorating remaining at a relatively lower economy andthe growingpitch level; in the written press and of-anti-Semitic statements in websites, we see a decrease in government-sponsored media regards to the quantity," said convinced many it was time a recently published Jewish to leave. confederation report that Now,: Jewish community tracked anti-Semitism in leaders say that emigration Venezuela from January to andagingareprovingtobethis October 2010. community'S real challenges. "I hope that this calm that "Our numbers are getting weareexperiencingnowl~sts," smaller, and we're getting Cohen said. older," Cohen said. However, there remain . Violence is often citedas the concerns that events in the primaryreasonforemigration. Middle East easily could cause "Anti-Semitism, as such, anti-Semitismtoresurface, the is not the community's main report said, problem," said Max Sihman, Asidefromthepoliticalrum- a Jewish business owner who blings, daily Jewish life persists held economic posts in previ- without discrimination, The ous administrations. "The community's religious andso- main reason for families in cial institutions operate freely the community emigrating and security is provided by the is insecurity. Kidnappings are state when requested. Club becoming more intense with Hebraica, the community's each day. Many families have most visible symbol of Jewish already sent their children life, runs a wide variety of edu- abroad." cational, cultural, religious and Sihman left Venezuela last social activities, offering K.12 year, moving to Costa Rica. education, athleticsclubsforall While the population has ages and cultural events for the dwindled, it is still large enough wider community, to sustain a palpable sense of But while Venezuelan Jews community, accordingtoAbra- may not feel threatened by" ham Levy Benshimol, director anti-Semitism, theyarethreat- of the Center for Sephardic enedby general violence in the Studies in Caracas. country. The number of violent Benshimol, 77, said that the civilian deaths in Venezuela in most important indicator of a 2009 was almost four times ~ continuing Jewish presence higher than in Iraq, according here is the number of students to the Venezuela Observatory enrolled at the school in He- of Violence. braica. Offering a rare glimmer That's one of the main, of hope, he saidthat afteryears reasons that Venezuela--a of consecutive declines, the country that once offered number of students seems to shelter to Jewish refugees flee, have stabilized. ing Hitler and beckoned others "We don't know what the as a land of opportunity--has futurewillbring,"hesaid."The seen its Jewish community de- next five years will be crucial."