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Hungary tells UK Jewish group to ‘mind its own business’ over antisemitism

Hungary tells UK Jewish group to ‘mind its own business’ over antisemitism

A Hungarian government minister has accused a senior representative of British Jews of politically-motivated lying, telling her to “mind your own business” following a meeting in which she raised concerns about antisemitism.

The secretary of state, Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky, wrote to Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, this week to take issue with the board’s account of a meeting between the pair.

The board said the meeting, which took place on 8 February, was “an important opportunity to raise a number of the [BOD’s] long-standing concerns directly with the Hungarian government, including the use of antisemitic tropes and … moves to downplay the role of historical Hungarian leaders in supporting the Holocaust.”

Other issues raised by the board included the Hungarian government’s attitude to Muslims and migrants, and relations between it and Jewish communities in the country.

The board also raised language used by the Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, in relation to the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthropist George Soros which, it said, “whether intentionally or not, represent[s] the oldest antisemitic tropes and this has to stop”.

Orbán attacked Soros at an election rally last year, saying: “We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world.”

In an email to Van der Zyl, released by the board on Wednesday, Szalay-Bobrovniczky said: “I harshly reject again your allegations of antisemitism against us, and especially against PM Orbán … It is a shame for you and a shame for the whole cause: a simple lie. The Jewish communities in the UK and in Hungary would deserve more than your obviously politically-motivated words.

“I again explicitly reject every charge of yours concerning our declarations regarding Soros. Soros organises illegal migration to Europe and is thus undermining European security and the security of Jewish life on our continent. That is our problem. I am extremely sorry for the Jews that you pretend to represent … With due respect, please mind your own business and we will equally not interfere with yours.”

He also accused Van der Zyl of a “dishonest and an unacceptable whitewashing” of “the obviously antisemitic tendencies in the [UK] Labour party”.

In her reply, Van der Zyl said she was “astonished and disappointed” by his response, adding: “We came to raise serious issues with you in a constructive spirit.”

Orbán’s comments about Soros contravened the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, Van der Zyl said. She urged the Hungarian government to “step back from, and apologise for, this kind of language”.

“I find it particularly bizarre your allegation that we are ‘whitewashing’ Labour’s record on antisemitism,” she said. The board has led a campaign on the issue, including a large demonstration outside parliament. “We are uncompromising on antisemitism whether on the left or right.”

Van der Zyl urged the Hungarian government to “take heed of our clear but constructive comments, to ensure that the international reputation of Hungary can once again be of a country that treats Hungarian Jews and other minorities with the equal dignity and respect that we must all want for everyone.”