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May 25, 2012

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, MAY 25, 2012 " PAGE 13A Political, social turmoil worries Hungary,s Jews By Ruth Ellen Gruber ditionally have gravitated Members of the Jewish synagogues, prayer houses 500 people in 10 countries According to his re- BUDAPEST (JTA)--The debate over anti-Semitism in Hungary has sharp- ened since the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish and anti-Roma (Gypsy) Jobbik movement entered Parliament two years ago as the country's third largest party. Seeking scapegoats and channeling paranoia at a time of severe economic, social and political woes, Jobbik's lawmakers regu- larly-and loudly--spout xenophobic, anti-Roma, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric. Outbursts in Parliament, in local councils and in the media have demolished ta- boos and increisingly serve to legitimize hate speech in both private conversation and public discourse. But for the Jewish com- munity, anxiety over anti- Semitism is only one toxic element of a broader and much more complex na- tional crisis that touches all parts of society two years after the 2010 elections swept the conservative Fidesz party to power. "The danger is about Hungarian democracy, not about anti-Semitism," Rabbi Istvan Darvas told JTA. "Everybody feels the crisis," said Mircea Cernov, CEO of Haver, a foundation that fights anti-Semitism and teaches schoolchil- dren "about Judaism and the Jewish people. "The financial and economic challenges, unemployment and poverty, social, educa- tion and health system crisis, democratic system in turbulence--there is no difference between people influenced by air this." With a two-thirds major- ity in Parliament, Prime Minister Victor Orban and his government rewrote the constitution and pushed through controversial new laws that sharply polarized the country and also drew tough criticism from the European Union and other international bodies. These included new legis- lation regulating the media, changing how judges are appo!nted and reducing the nuniber of officially recognized religious bod- ies. Three Jewish streams have such recognition. Other new laws cut social benefits, nationalized pri- vate pension funds and even outlawed homelessness.. The government said the new laws were needed to consolidate the legal and judicial system. But critics claimed they contributed to a "democracy deficit" and undermiried democratic rights. Jobbik and other extrem- ists have capitalized on the economic uncertainly and social and political polar- ization to push a virulently nationalist message that stigmatizes Jews, Rorfla, immigrants and other mi- nority groups. Fidesz is not formally allied with Jobbik and has condemned anti-Semitism. But a defense of Hungar- ian national honor is one of Fidesz's platforms. Many Hungarian Jews, who tra- toward leftist-liberal par- ties, are deeply troubled by appeals to nationalism, even by mainstream par- ties. And there is a perception among Fidesz opponents that some of its members may be sympathetic to Job- bik's more extreme stance. This month, for example, the Israeli ambassador to Hungary canceled an of- ficial visit to the town of Eger after an audio record- ing came to light in which a Fidesz town councilor ,slammed a prominent ac- tor as a "filthy Jew" with leftist-liberal sympathies. "Intolerance is grow- ing, radical narratives and voices are powerful, and many people feel that the risk of a greater conflict is real," said Cernov. The country, he said, faces a "moraJ crisis'; along with its other woes. "There are no real cred- ible voices and opinion- influencing figures," he said. "No role models'and no people who can set positive reference points. The lack of a minimum platform of common understand- ing among all democratic parties and ciVil groups is the real weakness of the Hungarian society." In a recent incident, ad- dressing Parliament just before Passover, a Jobbik lawmakerwent so far as to advance the blood libel the accusation thSt Jews kill Christian children and use theirblood for ritual purposes. And in a February in- terview with the London Jewish Chronicle, Jobbik foreign affairs spokesman Marton Gyongyosi called Israel a "Nazi system based on racial hatred," accused Jews of "colonizing" Hun- gary and stressed Jobbik's support of Iran. These developments have ratcheted up the anxiety level for Hungary's 100,000 Jews, the largest Jewish community in central Eu- rope. "The gravity of the situ- ation is Unprecedented in. the past two decades of Hungarian democracy," Rabbi Shlomo Koves told The Associatied Press. "Although the safety and well-being of Hungarian Jews in their daily life is not physically in danger or no worse than in any other European country anti- Semitic public speech has escalated to a point which cannot be ignored by a single decent person." Rabbi Andrew Baker, the representative on anti- Semitism to the Organi- zation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said it is not simple to gauge the extent and impact of anti-Semitism in Hungary. "There are real prob- lems and a high degree of uncertainty," he told JTA after a fact-finding mission to Hungary in April. But, he added. "It is not easy to separate the anxiety that Jews feel together with many other left-of-center Hun- garians at current political developments and unease at what are more directly anti-Semitic rumblings." community said anti-Sem- itism was widely expressed verbally but there have been few episodes of physical violence. "Many people.are afraid," said Andras Heisler, a former president of the Federation of Jewish Communities. "But in normal daily-life there is not any danger." Indeed, unlike in many Western countries, little security is evident at most of Budapest's 20 or so active and other Jewish sites. And Jewish life is lived openly. Budapest may be one of the only capitals where a program linked to this year's March of the Living was pub- licized on an advertisement that covered the entire side of a downtown building. Still, a report released before Passover by the Anti- Defamation League added fuel to alarmist fires. Based on a telephone sur- vey in which callers asked four questions regarding anti-Semitic stereotypes, the ADL found that 63 percent of Hungarians held anti-Semitic attitudes. The report grabbed head- lifies. But sociologist Andras Kovacs, Hungary's foremost researcher on anti-Semitism, slammed the report for em- ployingwhat he called a faulty methodology that favored responses from h'ard-core anti-Semites, givingaskewed result that fed alarmism. search, he said, the pro- portion of anti-Semites in Hungary is 20 to 25 percent. Cernov called the ADL report "superficial" and "even irresponsible." It could, he said, have a negative impact on organizations like Haver that were trying to carry out serious social action and other educational work to combat prejudice and counter extremist trends. Author opens u gndow on '30s Berlin By Ron Kaplan New Jersey Jewish News In his 2011 best-seller, "In the Garden of Beasts," Erik Larson offered a perspec- tive on what it was like for outsiders from the United States to be on the "inside" as Adolph Hitler was coming to power in the mid 1930s. An enthusiastic crowd of more than 450 came to hear his story of research and publication in a May 10 appearance at Green Brook Country Club in North Caldwell, N.J. "In the Garden"-- sub- titled "Love, Terror, & an American Family in Hitler's Berlin"--consid- ers America's inexplicable naivete when it came to forecasting Hitler's plans, primarily through the eyes of William E. Dodd, the United States ambassador to Germany at the time, and his 24-year-old daughter, "Marth,WhO, with'the iest of the Dodd family, moved to Germany for the duration of the ambassador's posting. Several years ago, as he searched for a new topic, Larson was in a book store and found "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William Shirer, a book he had always intended to read. He told the gathering that he marveled that the author had actually worked in Berlin as a correspondent, and had met and socialized with some of the "icons of evil," the most notorious Nazis in history. At the time, Larson said, no one could have conceived how things were going to transpire. It was then he had "a mini-epiphany." "What would that have been like if I had been sitting at one of those fan- tastic cafes and seen Hitler driving by in an open car," asked Larson. "Would I have felt a chill?" He wanted to find people who had lived through that period and tell their story. La?son discovered Wil- liam Dodd's diaries, as well as material from Martha, who went along for t'he adventure that Berlin prom- ised as a hotbed of culture. Sure enough, said Larson, Martha initially "fell in love with what she called the 'Nazi revolution.'" But, he added, he did not want to judge her in the light of hindsight. "Martha Dodd was mes- merized by her new life and could not see the changes that were taking place. From the family's house, across the street from a grand park, she could see no oppression," said Larson. Instead she saw well-dressed people walking well-fed dogs and glamorous figures on horseback. "I knew these would become my characters," Larson said. Initially, many observers felt that Hitler "was just the guy to drag Germany out of its post-World War I malaise," he said, surmis- ing that William Dodd may have been less outspoken because the United States was anxious for Germany to repay its massive financial debt following the Great War. He was warned by the State Department to limit his contacts with local Jews as much as possible because it might impair his ability to deal with the German government. (Larson said he was "surprised by the depth and breadth of anti-Semi- tism in the United States, including the top levels of the State department.") Dodd, a 63-year-old his- tory professor at the Uni- versity of Chicago prior to taking the ambassador- ship, "treated Hitler like a graduate student" at their infrequent meetings, Larson said. The diplomat told Hitler he empathized, saying, "We have our own Jewish problem in America, but we've chosen to solve it in a much more humane way"--via quotas and other less aggressive means, ac- cording to Larson. But every time Dodd tried to bring up the treatment of Jews, Hitler went "ballistic" and hinted at worse things to come. "Dodd wants to be objec- tive, hoping to find ratio- nal statesmen in charge," Larson said. "But he found insanity instead." Larson concluded his remarks with an invidious comparison that some dis- gruntled Americans were making between Hitler and President Barack Obama. "If you doubt that, go home...and fire up your computer and type the name 'Obama' and 'Hitler' side by side in the same win- dow and see what you come up with?' Most such items concern Obam's health care philosophies. By con- trast, he aid "Health care was the last thing on Hitler's mind." Larson's presentation was preceded by comments from Ernest Haas, a retired real estate developer who spoke about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor in context with the author's "outsider" themg of "In the Garden." "I, unfortunately at that time, was an insider who couldn't get out," Haas told the gathering. He called the book an "accurate, meticulously researched work." "I thank you, Erik Larson, . for undertaking the project and shining a light on this important topic," he said. R.on Kaplan is features editor for the New Jersey Jewish News, from which this article was reprinted by permission. 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