In his closing address today to the Plenary Assembly in Budapest, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder apologized for his previous comments about Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, saying that in the prime minister’s interview last week with an Israeli newspaper, he said that Jobbik poses a threat to democracy, violates human rights and that the prime minister has taken a clear stand against the party.
“This was a strong statement about Jobbik,” Lauder said, as reported by the Associated Press. “I would like that to be put in the record that the prime minister really did take a stand against Jobbik, and I appreciate that.”
Calling anti-Semitism “unaccaptable and intolerable,” Prime Minister Orbán addressed the WJC’s assembly on Sunday evening at their opening dinner (see his speech in English here).
In a somewhat unusual response to their host, the WJC leadership led by President Lauder issued a statement that very night saying that “the Prime Minister did not confront the true nature of the problem: the threat posed by the anti-Semites in general and by the extreme-right Jobbik party in particular. We regret that Mr. Orbán did not…provide sufficient reassurance that a clear line has been drawn between his government and the far-right fringe.”
The prime minister’s office did not respond to the extraordinary statement, but it provoked a strong reaction from the Hungarian public, including prominent Hungarian Jewish leadership. Péter Feldmájer and Slomó Köves, said they differed with the WJC’s view. On the prime minister’s stance toward Jobbik, Feldmájer said “the important thing is that the prime minister drew a very clear boundary.” Köves expressed his disappointment with the WJC leadership’s lack of focus and wondered whether they possess adequate knowledge of the situation in Hungary.
In his closing speech, Lauder acknowledged that he had been unaware of Prime Minister Orbán’s interview published last week in the Tel Aviv daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, in which he said that Jobbik is “a real danger, an increasing danger” to Hungarian democracy. “If we want to protect democracy, we must take a firm stand against Jobbik. Jobbik has developed a political ideology that quite obviously violates the human rights of Jews at both an individual and community level.”
Hopefully, Lauder’s apology will resolve what appears to have become a personal misunderstanding between the WJC president and the prime minister and will not overshadow the WJC’s visit to Budapest, which otherwise served as a fitting tribute to the vibrant Jewish community in Hungary and marked an important turning point in the recognition of the Jewish renaissance taking place here.