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Hungarian far-right leader says he respects Israel’s right to exist

(JTA) – The chairman of Hungary’s far-right Jobbik party, whose leaders often have inveighed against Jews, Israel and Zionism, said his party will no longer single out the Jewish state. Gabor Vona, who last month for the first time sent Chanukah holiday greetings from Jobbik to at least two Hungarian rabbis, made the remark about Israel during an interview published Jan. 11 by Reuters. “If we disagree, we want to be able to criticize Israel like we criticize Sweden or Germany, but naturally we respect its right to exist, form its own identity, opinions and articulate its interests,” Vona said. Some Jobbik supporters opposed the Chanukah greeting.

The Chanukah greetings and the statement about Israel are part of an effort by Jobbik to rehabilitate its image ahead of the 2018 general elections, according to Reuters. Slomo Koves, one the rabbis who received Vona’s Chanukah greetings, doubted the sincerity of the gesture, citing Jobbik’s long record as “an antisemitic party.” He noted several antisemitic incidents involving Jobbik members, including Vona’s 2014 vow to “immediately resign if somebody found out I had Jewish ancestry.” Last year, Vona reaffirmed the statement in an interview. “Jobbik has played a double game: Paying lip service to democratic values to pass off as a people’s party and reach power, while winking at its audience not to take this seriously,” said Koves.

In 2012, a Jobbik parliamentarian called for registering Hungarian Jews as threats to national security, though he later said he meant to say Israelis. Last year, a Jobbik alderman from Budapest, Laszlo Benke, boasted about refusing to stand up at a memorial service for a rabbi. The party defended Benke’s actions. Also in 2012, Marton Gyongyosi, then Jobbik’s foreign policy chief, said: “The Persian people and their leaders are considered pariahs in the eyes of the West, which serves Israeli interests, which is why we have solidarity with the peaceful nation of Iran and turn to her with an open heart.” That same year, Gyongyosi delivered a national tour of lectures on the “Zionist threat to world peace.”

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