BUDAPEST, Hungary (JTA) — Despite wide-ranging protests, Hungarian lawmakers passed legislation that appears to target the Budapest university founded by the Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros.
On Tuesday, the Parliament passed amendments — in an unusually swift manner — to the nation’s higher education law that could result in the shutdown of Central European University, which the Hungarian-born American financier founded in 1991. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a critic of liberal civil organizations funded by Soros, is expected to sign the legislation.
Thousands of students, professors and CEU supporters had rallied this week in Budapest demanding the government withdraw the draft legislation.
Dozens of universities, departments and academic groups have issued statements of support for the so-called Soros University, and the U.S. Department of State has called on the Hungarian government to “avoid taking any legislative action that would compromise CEU’s operations or independence,” Inside Higher Education reported.
The amendments lay out requirements that CEU cannot meet, such as having a campus in its home country, which in this case is considered the United States, as the university offers an American diploma. If it cannot honor the requirements, the university would be forced to close.
Orban has said the university, which is relatively free of Hungarian oversight, violated regulations in awarding diplomas. Last week he said its status gave it an unfair advantage over Hungarian counterparts and called the way it operated a “fraud,” The New York Times reported, adding in a clear reference to Soros, “in Hungary, one cannot be above the law — even if you’re a billionaire.”
A Budapest rabbi, Istvan Darvas, told JTA that “There is no doubt that the present political campaign against George Soros in Hungary is a hidden anti-Jewish activity.”
Darvas, of the Bet Jehuda Synagogue, said the campaign of nationalistic Hungarian rulings against Soros, who survived the Holocaust in Budapest, is anti-Semitic in nature.
“No question that the use of George Soros’ name is a hidden anti-Jewish expression used as a code in the present anti-Soros campaign,” he said.
Darvas said the goal of the campaign is to win voters from extreme-right political forces.
“Most of the Jews in my community are not worried about the anti-Semitism expressed in this latest campaign mainly because the Jews here think it is only for the old audience, for the old anti-Semites,” said Darvas, whose community numbers about 250 among the some 80,000 members of the Hungarian Jewish community. “But the Jews here are more annoyed at the negative steps against the CEU, and against free, autonomous education.”
The new amendments received the support of 123 lawmakers, with 38 voting against and another 38 abstaining, according to The New York Times.