Rabbi Köves defended minister Zoltán Balog in 2009

Human Resources Minister Zoltán Balog’s recent comments concerning the deportation of Roma from Hungary during WWII reminds me of some of his earlier faux pas.

The Hungarian Free Press reported earlier that Mr. Balog has denied that Roma citizens were deported from Hungary. He went on to warn the Roma community that it must not focus on these wartime experiences in the way that the country’s Jewish population has focused on the Shoah, for fear that they too may end up displaying “signs of schizophrenia.”

Mr. Balog was accused with anti-Semitism in the 2008 US State Department Human Rights Report. At that time a young Chabad Rabbi, Shlomo Köves “saved the day” and wrote a letter to US Ambassador Foley in Mr. Balog’s defense. In the letter Rabbi Köves writes that he has known Mr. Balog “for years as a friend of the Jewish community.”

For most of his public career Mr. Balog has praised anti-Semites, and made numerous inappropriate, and some may say racist comments.

For example, in 2008 Mr. Balog, who is also a Calvinist minister, inaugurated the statue of Catholic bishop Ottokár Prohászka at Lakitelek. Bishop Prohászka was a vicious anti-Semite. He supported the “numerus clausus” laws limiting Jewish participation in professions and university education. He called the Jewish presence in Hungary “a bug-invasion” and “a rat campaign,” saying that Jews “are an intruder minority,” and “a wrath on the Christian people.” He also stated that “the Jews are saturated with pestilent moral views.”

Balog defended the Bishop by saying, “Ottokár Prohászka was a prominent Catholic leader, who worked for the spiritual renewal of Christians in Hungary by evoking their social responsibility. His statements related to Jews are debated both seriously and superficially by historians and church historians. This debate is not being helped by the fact that the Budapest Holocaust Memorial Centre simply labeled him as the founder of anti-Semitism without any serious research.”

Mr. Balog misspoke again in 2009 when he told visiting Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, that Hungarians “will not tolerate” that the sufferings of Jewish people are used to distract attention from “the difficult problems of our country.” When the issue was raised of Hungary’s responsibility in the mass deportations of Jews, Mr. Balog stated that the nation is constantly defending itself “against false accusations.”

Before leaving Budapest, Mr. Wiesel noted that Mr. Balog’s statement in the Parliament was an insult and “is inexcusable.”

Here is the complete letter Rabbi Köves sent to April H. Foley, Ambassador of the United States in Budapest.


György Lázár


Zoltán Balog with Rabbi Köves

Zoltán Balog with Rabbi Köves

Dear Ambassador:

Our Congregation, the second largest Jewish community in Hungary, is following with increasing concern the build-up of tensions within Hungarian society and the deterioration of public safety. The financial crisis is adding further stimulus to these on-going processes, in particular to the increasing Roma-Hungarian ethnic tensions.

Hence we noted with interest the 2008 Human Rights Report on Hungary, published on the internet. This report mentions Zoltan Balog (Fidesz) Member of Parliament, President of the Human Rights Committee of Parliament. The Report is quoting the Hungarian Press charging Mr. Balog with anti-Semitism.

We would like to stress that we have known Mr. Balog for years as a friend of the Jewish community. Our impression was reinforced by personal meetings as well.

More importantly, we would like to emphasize our view as detailed in the previous EMIH Domestic Political Bulletin that was sent to your office as well. In the Bulletin we wrote that the situation is further complicated by the fact that the two main political parties, MSZP and Fidesz use anti-Semitism as a political tool as if Jewry would be a current political question in Hungary. On the one hand it is true, that the right of center parties do not always take into enough account the justified sensitivities of Jews. But, on the other hand left of center parties try to take advantage of this situation and talk about anti-Semitism even when there is no hint of it. Many, including our congregation, feel that the strengthening of extremist groups is also caused by the inadequate policing and investigation of crimes and the general deterioration of public safety – issues that the government should be addressing more decisively. Many are of the opinion that the socialist government is trying to use the spread of extremism to its political advantage instead of taking decisive steps to counter it.

The notion of a worldwide Jewish collaboration is an important part of the ideology of the extremist organizations. By anti-Semitism and hence Jewry being discussed by the major parties in connection with so many issues, they are reinforcing the extremist ideology regarding Israel and the Jews. It would be a welcome development if the topic of anti-Semitism would no longer be included in the reasoning and counter-reasoning of the mainstream parties who should instead focus on the real issues and challenges faced by society and the country.

Dear Ambassador, please convey our views to the appropriate officials in the State Department.

There is another sensitive topic in the Human Rights report that is not related to the above issues. It concerns religious freedom and equality and it has considerable bearing on our community in particular. We would like to address this topic in a separate letter.

Best regards,
Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Koves
Executive Rabbi

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