The Jewish leaders of Hungary typically refrain from criticizing their prime minister. But this time they didn’t hold back.
In a speech in Romania last month, Orbán said that European peoples should be free to mix with one another, but that mixing with non-Europeans creates a “mixed-race world.” Hungarians, he said, “do not want to become peoples of mixed races.”
Orbán also characterized Muslims moving to Hungary as a “flood” being forced upon the country.
Slomó Köves, head of EMIH, the Orthodox Jewish Community Association of Hungary, called Orbán’s choice of words “unfortunate,” adding that “one of the fundamental values of Judeo-Christian civilization is that God created every human being in his own image. For this reason alone, it is particularly unfortunate to speak of races.”
Rabbi Robert Frölich, the chief rabbi of Mazsihisz, the umbrella group of Hungarian Jewish communities, called Mr. Orbán’s remarks “a violation of human dignity and morals,” adding, "Only one race inhabits this earth, Homo Sapiens. And it is unique and undivided."
Orbán later defended his remarks, saying, “It happens that I speak in ambiguous terms,” and that the speech was not about racism but about “cultural differences.”
This is not the first time that Mr. Orbán has spiced his speeches with what he calls “cultural differences.” In a 2018 speech, he made a thinly veiled reference to Jews, 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.”
During his recent speech, the Hungarian prime minister also appeared to make light of the Nazi gas chambers in World War II when he criticized the EU's plan to cut gas demand by 15 percent by pointing out that “the past shows us German know-how on that.”
Hungary's largest Jewish group condemned the speech and called for a meeting with the prime minister. More than half a million Hungarian Jews perished in the final months of World War II, many of them at Auschwitz.
The International Auschwitz Committee said his words were “stupid and dangerous,” that they were “grist to the mill to all racist and far-right forces in Europe” and that they furthermore reminded Holocaust survivors of those days of torture and abuse.
Long-time Orban inner-circle advisor Zsuzsa Hegedus, who is Jewish, resigned over the Hungarian leader’s remarks. “I don't know how you didn't notice that the speech you delivered is a purely Nazi diatribe worthy of Joseph Goebbels,” she wrote in her resignation letter.
Outrage over Orbán’s remarks was not confined to Europe. Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. State Department’s antisemitism monitor, also condemned Orbán’s speech.
“Deeply alarmed by the Hungarian prime minister’s use of rhetoric that clearly evokes Nazi racial ideology,” she tweeted, saying that the rhetoric was especially inexcusable for “one who claims zero tolerance of antisemitism.”
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