Hungary pledges 1.5 mln euros to fight anti-Semitism

Budapest (AFP) –


The Hungarian government said Thursday it will spend 1.5 million euros ($1.7 million) every year on various projects to combat anti-Semitism.

Nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government has been accused of fostering anti-Semitic sentiment through a virulent campaign against Hungarian-born liberal US billionaire George Soros, who is Jewish.

Orban vehemently denies any anti-Semitism and has pointed to his close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- who has also criticised Soros -- as proof of his good relations with the Jewish community.

The money will go towards supporting a Hungarian Jewish organisation, the Action and Protection League of Europe (APLE), according to government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs.

It will help the organisation fund various projects across Europe, including education programmes and a hotline to report anti-Semitic incidents.

APLE will also open an office in Brussels "to make its voice heard" at European institutions, Kovacs said.

Orban says Soros' Jewish identity does not preclude him from criticism and accuses him of plotting to increase migration to Europe -- a charge which Soros denies.

Some of the huge billboards used by the government in its 2017 poster campaign against Soros were daubed with anti-Semitic graffiti.

Hungary's largest Jewish organisation Maszihisz branded that campaign "toxic" and called for it to be scrapped.

In a blog post on Thursday, Kovacs stressed the government's "zero tolerance" approach to anti-Semitism and pointed to several measures it had taken to foster Jewish life, including devoting resources to the reconstruction of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.

According to a Europe-wide poll of anti-Semitic attitudes commissioned by broadcaster CNN and published earlier this week, 42 percent of Hungarians think Jews have too much influence in finance and business across the world and 19 percent admit to having an unfavourable opinion of Jews.

However, according to the World Jewish Congress, Hungary's Jewish community -- Central Europe's largest -- faces only "occasional anti-Semitic incidents" and has "every facility" to express its heritage and religious life.

Concerns have also been raised about the way the government has dealt with Hungary's history during the Holocaust. Acclaimed Hungarian-born Holocaust historian Randolph L. Braham -- who died last week -- returned a state honour in 2014, accusing Orban's government of minimising Hungary's role in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps.