BUDAPEST (Reuters) - A Hungarian far-right politician urged the government to draw up lists of Jews who pose a “national security risk”, stirring outrage among Jewish leaders who saw echoes of fascist policies that led to the Holocaust.
Marton Gyongyosi, a leader of Hungary’s third-strongest political party Jobbik, said the list was necessary because of heightened tensions following the brief conflict in Gaza and should include members of parliament.
Opponents have condemned frequent anti-Semitic slurs and tough rhetoric against the Roma minority by Gyongyosi’s party as populist point scoring ahead of elections in 2014.
Jobbik has never called publicly for lists of Jews.
“I am a Holocaust survivor,” said Gusztav Zoltai, executive director of the Hungarian Jewish Congregations’ Association. “For people like me this generates raw fear, even though it is clear that this only serves political ends. This is the shame of Europe, the shame of the world.”
Between 500,000 and 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, according to the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest. According to some accounts, one in three Jews killed in Auschwitz were Hungarian nationals.
Gyongyosi’s call came after Foreign Ministry State Secretary Zsolt Nemeth said Budapest favoured a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as benefiting both Israelis with Hungarian ancestry, Hungarian Jews and Palestinians in Hungary.
Gyongyosi, who leads Jobbik’s foreign policy cabinet, told Parliament: “I know how many people with Hungarian ancestry live in Israel, and how many Israeli Jews live in Hungary,” according to a video posted on Jobbik’s website late on Monday.
“I think such a conflict makes it timely to tally up people of Jewish ancestry who live here, especially in the Hungarian Parliament and the Hungarian government, who, indeed, pose a national security risk to Hungary.”
Gyongyosi, 35, is the son of a diplomat who grew up mostly in the Middle East and Asia -- Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and India -- and whose office is decorated by Iranian and Turkish souvenirs. He graduated with a degree in business and political science from Trinity College in Dublin in 2000.
He worked for four years at the Dublin office of KPMG, then returned to Budapest in 2005. He has been active in Jobbik since 2006 and became their MP in 2010.
The government condemned the remarks.
“The government strictly rejects extremist, racist, anti-Semitic voices of any kind and does everything to suppress such voices,” the government spokesman’s office said.
Laszlo Kover, the Speaker of parliament, who is from the ruling Fidesz party, also issued a statement on Tuesday in which he called for a tightening of house rules that would allow a sanctioning of such behaviour.
Gyongyosi tried to play down his comments on Tuesday, saying he was referring to citizens with dual Israeli-Hungarian citizenship.
“I apologise to my Jewish compatriots for my declarations that could be misunderstood,” he said on Jobbik’s website.
He later told a news conference that he would not resign and considered the matter “closed,” national news agency MTI reported.
Jobbik’s anti-Semitic discourse often evokes a centuries-old blood libel - the accusation that Jews used Christians’ blood in religious rituals.
“Jobbik has moved from representing medieval superstition (of the blood libel) to openly Nazi ideologies,” wrote Slomo Koves, chief rabbi of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation.
Jobbik registered as a political party in 2003, and gained increasing influence as it radicalized gradually, vilifying Jews and the country’s 700,000 Roma.
The group gained notoriety after founding the Hungarian Guard, an unarmed vigilante group reminiscent of World War Two-era far-right groups. It entered Parliament at the 2010 elections and holds 44 of 386 seats.
The centre-right government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban has struggled to pull Hungary out of recession as many European countries suffer from an economic crisis.
Orban’s Fidesz has lost more than a million voters since 2010, even though it is still the strongest political force.
More than half of Hungary’s electorate is undecided and having retained its voter base, some analysts say Jobbik could hold the balance of power in the 2014 elections between Fidesz and the fragmented left-wing opposition.
Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Anna Willard