Jewish organization says anti-Soros propaganda campaign invokes “bad memories” for Hungarian Jews

July 4, 2017

A new wave of government propaganda in the form of posters, television and radio spots was rolled out in Hungary at the end of last week, and has already attracted widespread condemnation from civil society groups and opposition parties. The ads’ portraying a laughing George Soros as a powerful financier hellbent on destabilizing Hungary to topple the government and import illegal immigrants have prompted foreboding comparisons both to George Orwell’s “1984”, and to the antisemitic hate propaganda produced by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in the years leading up to WWII.

András Heisler, president of Hungary’s largest Jewish organization Mazsihisz, told hvg.hu that the campaign “brings up a lot of bad memories” among Hungarian Jews – but said that this was independent of the intentions of the campaign’s creators (the Hungarian government). Heisler added, however, that the ads make it possible for any side to play the “Jewish card”, and that his community disapproves of any hate speech.

Heisler’s statement that the antisemitic overtones of the ad campaign – and the “bad memories” it invokes among Hungarian Jews – are independent of the intentions of the government is odd: his organization was recently forced to react to statements made by Prime Minster Viktor Orbán in which the prime minister praised Hungary’s WWII-era leader, Regent Miklós Horthy, as a “great statesman.” Mazsihisz released a statement saying “that person who signed numerus clausus (1920), which demoted the Hungarian Jewry to second class citizens, and the first and second Jewish laws (1938, 1939), cannot be called a great statesman.”

Mazsihisz also spoke out against plans to erect a commemorative bust of Horthy in the Fidesz-led village of Perkáta in May. The plans were ultimately cancelled as the Perkáta city council revoked the permit to erect the bust at the last moment, precluding a vigorous media campaign against the bust reportedly planned at the time by Heisler’s organization.

In February, Heisler called for Orbán to act as some 600 neo-Nazis gathered in Budapest’s central Városmajor park to commemorate what the Hungarian extreme-right calls the “Day of Honor”, when Nazi and Hungarian fascist army divisions attempted to break through the Soviet blockade surrounding the Buda Castle during the Red Army’s siege of Budapest. Orbán was unable to offer any help, despite laws prohibiting the display of authoritarian imagery such as Nazi salutes, the swastika or SS emblems, all of which were prominent at the demonstration.

These examples, among many others, demonstrate the Hungarian Jewish community’s continual struggle against open antisemitism in the country, often at the instigation of the ruling party; one must wonder how such a pattern can be considered unintentional. Heisler’s apparent caution as he describes the antisemitic overtones of the recent Soros campaign as “independent of the intentions” of its creators seems to indicate a reluctance to take an overtly antagonistic posture toward the Fidesz government.

Heisler admits that his organization’s quiet disapproval of the government’s propaganda campaign is unlikely to bring it to an end, given that “maximizing votes and electoral interests overwrite everything.” Meanwhile, the lengthening series of incitements sanctioned by the government continues to overwrite the interests of the Hungarian Jewish community itself.