Concerned over allegations of anti-Semitism in his country, the president of Hungary, Arpad Goncz, opened an official visit to Israel this week by urging international solidarity against any resurgence of fascist or racist ideas.
Goncz, a liberal-democratic political figure, spoke at a formal ceremony ushering in a four-day state visit that reciprocates one that Israeli President Chaim Herzog paid to Hungary earlier this year.
In his remarks, Herzog spoke of the long history shared by Hungary and the Jews, some of it marked by tolerance and amity, some by discrimination and persecution.
Hundreds of Israelis of Hungarian origin were invited to a dinner at the president’s residence Sunday night to meet the Hungarian head of state.
On the eve of his departure from Budapest, Goncz sought to assure Israelis that anti-Semitism was confined to the far-right wing of his country.
But the president, making the first-ever visit by a Hungarian chief of state to Israel, acknowledged that recent anti-Semitic utterances by prominent Hungarian figures could harm his country’s image in the West.
Although this is his first visit to Israel, the Hungarian prime minister, Jozsef Antall, came here in May.
Antall had asked Istvan Csurka, vice president of the ruling Hungarian Democratic Forum, to accompany him. But Csurka’s regular anti-Semitic diatribes make him a subject of scorn here and among Jews worldwide, and demonstrations against him here made him cancel his visit.
Possibly angered by the upcoming visit by Goncz, who is a political rival, Csurka let rip a barrage of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic statements. His remarks raised concern here and prompted a visiting U.S. congressman, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), to warn that such fascist words could prompt a freeze in U.S. investment in Hungary.
Csurka’s latest anti-Semitic outburst blamed Jews, liberals and Western financiers for undermining the Hungarian government.
Goncz, a 70-year-old playwright and former prisoner of the Communists, expressed concern that Csurka’s fascism could indeed affect Western investment in his country and help generate economic momentum there following the collapse of communism.
He talked of this both with reporters in Israel and earlier with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in the Hungarian capital, as he prepared to depart.
Goncz said Eastern Europe has been left with a legacy of deeply rooted anti- Semitism, which he compared to Western European xenophobia. But he said Hungary should not be branded fascist because of the actions of some far-right elements.
Still, fascism seems to be pervasive. The most recent expression of this came last weekend from the vice president of the World Federation of Hungarians, which held a gathering here that brought together Hungarian expatriates.
A statement by Jeno Fonay that “those who condemn fascism are paid agents of the Bolsheviks” who should “not be allowed to live and dictate (matters)” in Hungary brought forth a call for his resignation from Leslie Keller, chairman of the East European Commission of the World Jewish Congress.
“It is a pity that the Hungarian government has not until now issued a clear condemnation of such manifestations,” said Keller, who is also president of the World Federation of Hungarian Jews.
Concerns over anti-Semitism in Hungary have prompted a number of Jews to consider aliyah. Some 39 Hungarian Jewish families are to leave for Israel at the end of October to explore possible settlement there. They are being directed to a development area in the Galilee by the Settlement Department of the World Zionist Organization.
They met last week with the visiting chairman of the WZO Settlement Department, Yehiel Leket.
It is estimated that between 80,000 and 100,000 Jews live in Hungary. Some observers believe the number is much higher.
Meanwhile, Goncz’s 15-member entourage here includes business figures and bankers. During the visit, the first Israeli branch of a Hungarian bank, the Hungarian General Banking and Trust Co., is scheduled to be opened in Tel Aviv.