JTA – Hungary is hosting some of the most dramatic general elections in its history, so Peter Pretz is seriously considering how he will vote on April 3.
The 64-year-old Jew, a father of five from Budapest, has finally made up his mind: he is voting for the Two-Tailed Dogs party, which was founded in 2006 as a parody, with campaign promises of free beer and eternal life.
“I’d rather vote for a real party,” said Pretz, who said he took “the right to vote very seriously” because he grew up under communism. “But for the first time, I’m left with no choice.”
These sentiments, which seem to be shared by many Hungarian Jews, are the result of a new political reality in Hungary.
The right-wing populist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban is in a fierce race for power with the newly formed alliance of opposition parties, the largest contingent of which comes from the far-right Jobbik party, considered by many to be a neo-Nazi movement.
An alliance called “United for Hungary” includes groups from across the political spectrum, and it has taken an unorthodox step by announcing a prime ministerial candidate ahead of the election, choosing a centrist without much political baggage in a clear signal that he has intention to rule from the middle if it overthrows Orban.
But that does not change the fact that the success of the opposition alliance will give Jobik, Hungary’s second-largest party, more power than ever before.
Jobik, whose critics accuse him of institutional racism, is responsible for numerous anti-Semitic scandals, and Mazsihisz, Hungary’s largest Jewish group, has called the party “anti-Semitic” and “fascist.”
Prez is one of the Hungarian Jews – a minority of at least 47,000 people with many political liberals – who will not even think of voting for Orban’s Fidesz party, a nationalist accused of corruption, whitewashing complicity in the Holocaust and xenophobia. including against Jews. But he also cannot force himself to vote for the opposition because of Jobik.
“I am a descendant of Holocaust survivors. How could I vote for the Nazis? Of course, I can’t, ”Pretz told the Jewish News Agency.
In 2012, one of Jobik’s lawmakers called for the registration of all Hungarian Jews in parliament. This legislator Marton Göngösi now represents Jobik in the European Parliament.
The current leader of the party, Peter Jacob, a Catholic with Jewish roots, in 2014 accused Jews of anti-Semitism and abusing the Holocaust memory for financial gain. His predecessor, Tamas Snyder, is a former skinhead who confessed to beating a gypsy in 1992 with metal ropes in an alleged racist attack.
Despite this track record, Jobik in 2019 joined veteran left-wing parties, such as the Green Party and the Hungarian Socialist Party, in an opposition alliance that is now fighting Orbán’s party on the United for Hungary ticket.
Jobbik tried to soften his racist image, including by sending greetings to Hanukkah to Hungary’s famous rabbis. “The anti-Semitic statements that took place in Yobik earlier are unimaginable,” former party leader Gabar Won said in 2017.
Hungarian liberals, Jews, and leaders of the Jewish community remained skeptical of this image of Jobbik leaders, especially as they coincided with new racist scandals.
The stunning cooperation of the parties on diametrically opposed sides of the ideological spectrum, which for years had expressed fierce hostility to each other, was both unexpected and contradictory. This provoked desertion and condemnation from hardliners from the two main contingents.
He also provoked external criticism, including from Orbán, for the moral resilience of its members.
But the alliance was undeniably effective in threatening Orban’s leadership. His party won the 2018 election, scoring 30 points more than Jobik, who finished second. Now, for the first time in 12 years in government, Orban is facing the prospect of losing power.
Polls give United for Hungary 45% of the vote, just 5 points behind Orban. If the Two-Tailed Dogs Party, which is not part of the alliance but is hostile to Orban, exceeds the 5% electoral barrier and then joins a coalition with the alliance, Orban may be ousted and Jobik installed.
If that happens, Hungary will become a “fascist country” for Tommy Roche, a 52-year-old Jewish financier and father from Budapest who intends to vote for Fidesz on Sunday.
If the opposition alliance, which is really completely infected with Yobik, wins, we will make an aliyah, ”he said, using the Hebrew word to immigrate to Israel. “If that happens, I don’t want to stay here.”
Esther Cinco is also considering an alia in connection with the election, but she has said she plans to pack her bags if Orban is re-elected. Her main claim to Orban’s government is corruption, which she and others see, she said.
She can vote for the opposition alliance, although she believes Jobik is anti-Semitic, or for the Two-Tailed Dogs Party. “It’s very sad,” said Sinko, a 47-year-old financier, about the political situation in her country.
Even Orbán’s Jewish voters are critical of some of his policies toward Jews. Roche, for example, believes that Orbán contributed to the coverage of Hungary’s participation in the Holocaust by supporting a monument erected in Budapest in 2014. It depicts an eagle attacking an angel in the context of the Nazi occupation of Hungary.
Roche is one of many Jewish critics who see the statue as an attempt to portray Hungary, whose pro-Nazi governments helped kill hundreds of thousands of Jews as mere victims. Orban rejected such an interpretation of the statue, which was erected despite strong opposition from the Jews.
The issue prompted Mazsihisz, Hungary’s largest Jewish group, to suspend all relations with the government and even drew criticism from EMIH, a Jewish group linked to Chabad that tended to be more friendly than Mazsihisz to Orban. (Chabad, the Hasidic Orthodox movement, seeks to cooperate with governments of any orientation as long as they do not threaten Jews.)
Both Jewish groups enjoy significant government funding and have opened at least 20 new synagogues under Orban. Many Hungarian Jews are pleased with this update and the fact that at a time when anti-Semitic violence is gripping headlines across Europe, such incidents remain rare in Hungary.
However, Jewish voters, such as Pretz, feel the same anxiety about Fidesz as they do about Jobbik.
“On the right side of Fidesz, they are too close to the Nazis,” Pretz said.
Orbán has been attacked, including by members of the Jewish community, for rhetoric they fear could encourage anti-Semitism, including during a government campaign in 2017 and 2018 against Jewish billionaire of Hungarian descent George Soros, a major liberal donor who refers to Orban. . (Soros is a frequent target of anti-Semitic criticism.)
Rosa rejects these allegations, arguing that, in his view, Fidesz usually does not allow anti-Semitic speech and tends to have low tolerance for this form of racism.
He is also in favor of lowering Fidesz taxes, financial support for large families to stimulate reproduction, restrictive immigration policies and opposition to teaching progressive ideas about race and gender in schools, Rosa said.
But most Hungarian Jews do not seem to support Fidesz, Roche said. “They traditionally support the left. Even with the leftist alliance with the Nazis. I can’t understand that, ”he said. (There are no polls on the election of Hungarian Jews, who make up less than 1% of the population.)
Judith Chaki, a Jewish cultural journalist from Budapest, offered an explanation.
“At least half of the country considers Orbán so bad that anyone who goes against him should be the best,” she said. Russia’s war against Ukraine, in which Orban has taken a less firm stand against Vladimir Putin than the rest of the European Union, to which Hungary belongs, has illustrated this even more, ”said 65-year-old Chuckie.
“Of course, I am voting for the opposition because I want it to end,” she said. “It’s very bad for the country, for my morale and for the culture in which I work.”
And how will she feel about getting Jobbik politicians to achieve real power as cabinet ministers?
“It depends on the ministry,” she said. “And at least not the whole country will be in Orban’s hands as it is now.”