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Saturday, 30 July 2016 14:40

Antisemitism in Hungary: high and stable

The Action and Protection Foundation commissioned the Medián Public Opinion and Market Research Institute to study antisemitic prejudice in Hungarian society. One of the conclusions of the study was that nearly one-third of the population hold anti-Semitic views. 

In November 2015, Medián studied for the third time what opinions people in Hungary have towards Jews. In polling a sample of 1,200 people, researchers personally contacted respondents. As the study was conducted regularly, it provides comparable data of how opinions evolved from year to year. 

One of the main findings of the study was that an increase – albeit slight – can be seen in the levels of anti-Semitism over the last few years. According to the pollster, this cannot be dissociated from the general xenophobia seen in Hungary. 

graph1 englishSource: zsido.com/Medián

As can be seen, in 2015, 26% of the population agreed with the statement “I don’t like Jews”. 

It was also shown in the course of the poll that people were not really able to cite an event in recent years connected with the Jewish community. Only 11% of respondents were able to cite a specific event from the last 12 months that had appeared in the news as well. Accordingly, it can be stated in all certitude that news or events connected with the Jewish community do not interest the Hungarian electorate, unless they are personally affected. Consequently, it is important to note that – as the pollsters concluded at a press conference – the study was able to identify the attitudes of respondents towards the Jewish community, but not to identify the significance that they attach to the issue as a whole.  

Meanwhile, in 2013, 11% of the population fell under the “strongly antisemitic” category, which increased to 13% in 2014, and to 14% in 2015. The “moderately antisemitic” category decreased from 42% in 2013 to 41% the following year, only to return to 42% in 2015. As summarised in the study report, at the same time, the numbers of respondents in the “not antisemitic” category dwindled from 47% in 2013 to 46% in 2014, and finally down to 44% in 2015.

Over the last 12 years, the proportion of respondents agreeing with the statement “I don’t like Jews” has increased from 9% to 26%. The increase was not a steady one. The number of respondents agreeing with the statement leapt up after 2010, making a 10% jump in one year, up to 28% According to the researchers, this is closely connected with the fact that the extreme-right Jobbik party did very well in the 2010 parliamentary elections, and found itself in Parliament as one of the largest opposition parties. Jobbik at that time did not shy from using antisemitic speech, and thus legitimised this form of speech in Parliament. In the year after the election, the proportion of respondents rejecting Jews dropped slightly, only to increase again in 2013. 

Overall, it can be said that anti-Jewish sentiment is characteristic of about one-third of the population. The proportion of strongly antisemitic respondents grew from 20% in 2013 to 23% in 2015. Although the percentage of the population which is moderately antisemitic dropped in 2014 to 10% from 18% the previous year, it was up to 12% again in 2015. (Figures and commentary from the study report.) 

graph2 englishSource: zsido.com/Medián

As antisemitism grew, the rejection of other ethnic groups has also increased. Due to the crisis weighing on Europe and the Hungarian government’s anti-asylum seekers policies have put migrants by far at the “top of the dislike-index”. The study shows that the level of antisemitism varies in accordance with the level of xenophobia. An interesting point is that antisemitism does not depend on the social background of respondents, as negative opinions of the Jewish community are found in essentially the same measure in all social groups.

graph3 englishSource: zsido.com/Medián

In terms of percentage, Jobbik has the most antisemitic voters, with 40% of the party’s supporters being strongly antisemitic, and 19% moderately so. Of Fidesz voters, 28% are strongly antisemtic, and 13% less so, meaning that four out of every ten Fidesz supporter can be considered antisemitic. We also find massive anti-Semitism on the left: 21% of MSZP supporters are strongly against Jews, while 3% are in the moderate category. The corresponding figures for other left-wing parties are 9% and 9% for LMP, 7% and 11% for DK, as well as 5% and 5% for the remaining parties.

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Interview with Endre Hann, General Manager of the Medián Public Opinion and Market Research Institute

Hann portraitEndre Hann

To what extent has antisemitism grown over the last few years?

Growth has been minimal. The change can by no means be called dramatic.

Even without growth, the level of antisemitism is dramatic enough: one-third of the population claims to have anti-Semitic views.

With this study, we don’t measure how people think, but what they say. Which is in some sense a publicly stated opinion. The pollster represents the public. But it’s difficult to really pinpoint what’s inside them. If the study shows an increase in anti-semitism, that doesn’t necessarily mean that more people are angry at Jews. It also means that the atmosphere is such that you can say things like that openly. Of course, that’s also a problem in itself, that there’s an atmosphere in which you can say things like that openly. Under another interpretation, it’s good if people say what they think. 

The attacks on Soros, the Hóman memorial, the statements of the director of the historical office about the numerus clausus – do these have an impact on public opinion, or are they just academic debates that never reach average citizens?

They don’t have a very broad impact, and this is why it’s a major dilemma as to how forcefully the opposition parties or the intelligentsia should react to these events. Often people learn of these events first through the reactions, while they were not aware of the initial event. But I think you can’t just remain silent. For example, Orbán once said that “we” – meaning Fidesz – “are not a commune and not a kibbutz.” My friends and I were arguing about whether this qualifies as an antisemitic comment. The sentence could be heard by someone as meaning, “we’re not communists, and we’re not Jews”. Orbán calls this the “peacock dance”: addressing several audiences at the same time. One day, he puts on his hat, goes to the synagogue, and vehemently states that we won’t tolerate any form of antisemitism whatsoever; the next day he’s winking at the Jobbik voters. The battle for voters who are susceptible to this sort of thing goes on interminably. 

Based on Medián’s latest study, we can say that this strategy is successful. Currently, 37% of the population supports the ruling party, and thus it has more certain voters than all the other parties put together.  

Yes, I also think it’s successful. The worst part of the whole thing is that the propaganda machinery is continuously sensitizing the audience. What comes into people’s minds when the government accuses George Soros? 

Probably “America, capitalist, Jew, foreigner, anti-Hungarian”, these interconnected categories.

It would be interesting to study to what extent people interpret attacks on Soros as being attacks on the Jewish community. Of course a lot of people also associate attacks on bankers with Jews. This is a very dangerous game. I believe that the main problem is Orbán’s game-playing. It’s obvious that he is trying to replace the elite, with “our people” taking over key positions from the old guard, those found themselves in place mainly at the time of the regime change and privatization, but who still were connected with the old nomenclature. The right-wing calls the new elite the national bourgeoisie. That is – as opposed to those who are not part of the nation. The radicals say that the Jews control everything. Orbán has used a lot of aspects of this approach. Recently he used the expression “background powers”. Until now, only conspiracy theorists talked about background powers.  

But everyone agrees, even among the opposition, that Orbán is not an antisemite.

Indeed, many people say that Orbán is not an anti-Semite, even in left-wing intelligentsia circles. So what. The main thing is that he is increasingly playing this card. Maybe it will work out for him, and he really will be able to attract the frustrated masses away from Jobbik.

Jobbik is much more popular among young people than Fidesz. Can they also be seduced by this floating antisemitism?

I looked at the breakdown by age groups in the latest study. The DK’s voting camp is clearly the oldest. Their average age of voters is around sixty. MSZP has the 50-55 age group, Fidesz is the national average, which is 46. Jobbik however is clearly under 40. What’s interesting is that not a single political camp is free from antisemitism. A lot of MSZP supporters share these views. The most are among Jobbik supporters. But the reverse is just as interesting: there are many Jobbik supporters who cannot be called antisemitic at all. Jobbik is a fairly heterogeneous society. They are primarily characterised by social discontent, which can of course easily be turned against the Jews at any given moment. Surprisingly enough, while Fidesz is playing with this topic, Jobbic seem to be wanting to distance itself from this approach. 

But wouldn’t a change in Jobbik’s strategy and its attempt to position itself in the centre result in Orbán taking a different tone of speech? 

The reaction time of voters to this kind of change is fairly slow. Antisemitism was not necessarily the main mobilising factor thus far either. Social discontent is primarily directed towards Gypsies. But because of his games with Jobbik, Orbán is inevitably forced to engage in double-talk. A good example of this is Sándor Szakály’s claim that the numerus clausus law did not deprive anyone of their rights. On one hand, a member of the government makes a statement distancing it from these claims. On the other hand, the director of the institute remains in office. What happens if the government distances itself from the director of an institution which is under government control? If they are distancing themselves from him, why don’t they replace him? It’s basically like when János Lázár [Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office] said that he, “as an individual”, would leave the EU.  

Did the refugee crisis have an impact on society’s tolerance threshold?

Yes. We did a study last autumn, after the big wave of refugees. It showed that anti-Semitism had dropped a bit, but antipathy towards foreigners had increased, primarily against Arabs and Blacks. But I don’t think it will last.

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