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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife in Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Thousands of Hungarians on Sunday, December 2, braved winter temperatures to attend an anti-Nazi rally in Budapest against a far-right leader's proposal to draw up lists of Hungarian Jews who may "represent a security risk" for the nation.
Márton Gyöngyösi of the Hungarian Movement for a Better Hungary (Jobbik), the country's largest far-right party, told parliament last week that it was time "to assess ... how many people of Jewish origin there are here, and especially in the Hungarian parliament and the Hungarian government, who represent a certain national security risk for Hungary."
He said the lists, resembling similar measures during the Nazi-era, "were necessary" because of heightened tensions after a brief conflict in Gaza and should include lawmakers and other officials.
Gyöngyösi, 35, also claimed Hungary's Foreign Ministry had "rushed to make an oath of allegiance to Israel."
SHOWING HITLER MUSTACHE
In response, demonstrators were seen outside the neo-Gothic parliament building holding portraits of the Hungarian lawmaker, showing him with a Hitler mustache and the words "Heil Marci" in reference to his first name and the war-era greeting "Heil Hitler".
A scuffle broke out during the otherwise peaceful protest when a young man was detained for punching an organizer in the stomach, but the organizer did not need medical aid, police said.
In a rare show of unity, Sunday's 'Mass Demonstration Against Nazism' featured politicians from the left-leaning opposition and the ruling center right government, after it had been accused by critics of flirting with the far-right to stay in power.
The parliamentary group leader of the ruling Fidesz party Antal Rogán warned that “a genocide is always preceded by lists” and said it was unacceptable that “people should fail to learn the lessons of the past 100 years”.
He condemned what he called “racist expressions” or the “belittling of the suffering and death of innocent millions”. No Hungarian citizen should be "humiliated because of his or her religion or ethnicity by these stigmatizing lists," Rogán added.
VOICE AGAINST ANTISEMITISM
Speaking for the electoral movement Together 2014, former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai urged the government and opposition to unite "with one voice against antisemitism" and Nazi ideology.
“We want to live together in peace in a country where it is a fundamental right to live without fear,” Bajnai said, adding that he was also concerned about recent deadly attacks against Hungarian gypsies, who prefer to be known as Roma. “Nazism is not compatible with life,” he stressed.
Attila Mesterházy told reporters his Socialist Party would boycott Parliament's foreign affairs committee as long as Gyöngyösi remains its vice chairman.
The protest was organized by civil, Jewish and Christians groups, including Facebook website movement 'All Together for Jerusalem Foundation', the Federation of Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), the growing evangelical 'Congregation of Faith' (Hit Gyulekezete) and the 'March for the Living' initiative.
US, ISRAELI AMBASSADORS
Among those attending Sunday's protest were the Israeli and American ambassadors, who have expressed concerns about what they view as rising antisemitism in Hungary.
In a statement to BosNewsLife, the U.S. embassy in Budapest said: "The United States utterly rejects and condemns in the strongest terms the outrageous anti-Semitic remarks made on the floor of Parliament by a Jobbik parliamentarian on November 26."
The embassy also made clear it wasn't an isolated incident. "The recurrence of anti-Semitic and other racist statements in the Hungarian parliament demonstrates the need to further empower voices of tolerance and peaceful coexistence in Hungary."
Earlier this year, a Jobbik legislator was able to tell Parliament that Jews killed a Christian girl 130-years ago in the town of Tiszaeszlar. Zsolt Baráth claimed the 15 Jewish suspects were only acquitted after outside pressure.
MORE ATTACKS REPORTED
Outside the parliament building, Jewish people, including rabbis, are known to have been attacked or threatened in recent months, while several Holocaust monuments and Jewish graves were vandalized.
Jobbik-linked paramilitary groups have marched through Budapest and villages, wearing uniforms and carrying flags that were used by Hungary's Nazi-regime.
Yet, Jobbik has defended its views and condemned the latest anti-Nazi demonstration.
Jobbik Parliamentarian János Volner said in a statement it was “pitiful” to see how the “united left is organizing itself into a grand coalition under the compulsion to conform.”
He 'congratulated' Fidesz politicians for "openly siding" with former Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai and the Jewish Mazsihisz group. “This way at least everyone can see who belongs to whom and who tries to conform to whom,” he said.
GRAND COALITION FORMED?
The party’s leader, Gábor Vona, said in published remarks that the grand coalition wants "to destroy” Jobbik and condemned organizers for choosing “the very day of the first Sunday of Advent” to protest.
He said this reflected “hatred and insensitivity to the real problems of Hungarians” and the “despair felt at growing social support for Jobbik”.
Evangelical Christians participating in the rally have made clear however that they view the fight against antisemitism as a Biblical mission.
They say Jesus was born from a Jewish mother and that Jews play a central role in God's plan.
"YELLOW POSTAL ORDERS"
Vona said Jobbik would continue to focus on the country’s “basic problems” and claimed Hungarians were not worried about "the yellow star” but "yellow postal orders" used to pay bills at the post office.
Yet some elderly Hungarians wore a yellow star Sunday, December 2, like those Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis, as a reminder that history could repeat itself.
There have also been protests outside the capital, including in the eastern city of Debrecen, where representatives of Hungary's largest churches, local government, parliamentary parties and civil groups held a candle-light demonstration Friday, November 30, against racism and hate speech.
Antisemitism remains a sensitive issue in Hungary, which was a a close ally of Nazi Germany. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, many of them in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Many were also shot and thrown in the Danube river by Hungarian fascists.
Hungary still has Eastern Europe's largest Jewish community outside Russia, of some 100,000 people.