(JTA) – Israel’s ambassador to Hungary penned a letter to a newspaper editor condemning what he said was a columnist’s anti-Semitic writings.
Ambassador Ilan Mor’s April 4 letter to Peter Petan, editor-in-chief of Magyar Hirlap, were about articles by Zsolt Bayer, a co-founder of the ruling Fidesz party, that “openly advocate anti-Semitic sentiments and incite against the Jewish People and the State of Israel,” the Jewish weekly Szombat on Monday reported after obtaining a copy of the letter.
Mor’s protest, which is unusual for an Israeli ambassador, concerned specifically a series of more than a dozen op-eds that Bayer has published since February in the major daily newspaper Magyar Hirlap, a mainstream newspaper seen by many as supportive of the policies of Hungary’s right-leaning prime minister, Viktor Orban.
Titled “intolerable,” it examines the historical roots of anti-Semitism in Hungary, often asserting it as a natural reaction to actions by Jews against non-Jews. The trigger for the series was a controversy over a plan to unveil in Budapest in the presence of senior government officials a statue honoring Gyorgy Donath, a lawmaker who in the 1930s and 1940s supported racist legislation against Jews, which served as the prelude to their murder during the Holocaust, under Hungary’s pro-Nazi governments. The statue was removed last month amid protests.
In one of the columns in question, Bayer linked merciless persecution of Jews during the Holocaust to Jewish involvement in the Hungarian Soviet Republic, a short-lived communist regime that ruled Hungary for a little over four months in 1919.
“Why are we surprised that the simple peasant whose determinant experience was that the Jews broke into his village, beat his priest to death, threatened to convert his church into a movie theater, why do we find it shocking that twenty years later he watched without pity as the gendarmes dragged the Jews away from his village?” Bayer wrote.
In another, he quoted an anti-Semitic rant by the novelist Zsigmond Moricz, arguing that hatred of Jews should not be a reason to not honor the legacy of people who contributed significantly to Hungarian culture.
“Their noses and ears are big, their mouths strange,” Bayer quoted Moricz as writing about Jews. “The lower lip is swollen: the kind of mouth I always see with disgust so that I have to avert my eyes. Such a mouth makes my throat nauseous.”
In his letter, Mor wrote that the embassy would cancel its subscription to Magyar Hirlap. “Bayer’s insinuations, assumptions, as well as his false accusations,” Mor wrote, “totally contradict the official statements and positions of the Government of Hungary, which implements a policy of friendship and co-operation” with Israel.