Hungarian Jewish leader returns state award in protest

(JTA) – The president of Hungary’s main Jewish umbrella organization, Mazsihisz, has returned a high state award to protest the same award being presented to a nationalist journalist described as racist and anti-Semitic.

In a Facebook post, Andras Heisler, who is also a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said he was returning the Knight’s Cross, which he was awarded in 2011, following presentation of the honour last week to the right-wing journalist and columnist Zsolt Bayer. 

Heisler described Bayer as a man “who is a racist, who is an anti-Semite, who is polluting Hungary with his destructive sentiments and his burning hatred of the Roma, who is vigilantly protecting the traditions of the Hungarian extremist right, keeping alive feelings of fear and hatred.”

In his statement, which was also posted on the Mazsihisz website, Heisler said he had received his own Knight’s Cross in recognition of his years of civic work “in the interests of the Jewish community.”

“I was proud of this award and thought that it would serve to strengthen the moral values that spring from a diverse range of people, people of different faiths, people who support different political sides; I received this award together with representatives of a broad range of religious institutions,” Heisler wrote. “This represented to me the value of diversity; and valuing each other’s views represents the future of Hungary.”

The presentation of the Knights Cross to Bayer contradicted these values, he wrote.

“I value diversity, but not destructive extremism,” Heisler said. “I do not wish to belong to any community to which Zsolt Bayer belongs, even virtually.”

He added: “As a civil activist I received the award, and as a responsible Hungarian citizen I am returning it. This is my own personal decision.”

Bayer, a co-founder of the ruling Fidesz party, has long angered Jews and others with his articles and op-eds in right-wing publications. In April, the Israeli ambassador to Hungary protested to the editor of the Magyar Hirlap newspaper saying that Bayer’s columns “openly advocate anti-Semitic sentiments and incite against the Jewish People and the State of Israel.”

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