Pressure from World Jewish Congress led Hungary to drop antisemitic ambassador

Pressure from the World Jewish Congress (WJC) may have been decisive in convincing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government to drop Péter Szentmihályi Szabó as its new ambassador to Rome. Szentmihályi Szabó, who in the far-right Magyar Fórum weekly referred to Jews as being “agents of Satan,” announced that he was no longer interested in being appointed as Hungary’s ambassador to Italy. In his brief statement, Szentmihályi never apologized for his earlier antisemitic hate speech, nor did the Orbán government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tibor Navracsics, explain why it attempted to appoint a rabid anti-Semite who spoke absolutely no Italian and had little experience in foreign affairs as ambassador to Italy. Intense international pressure from the WJC, as well as from the Anti-Defamation League, and a string of highly critical articles in a range of Italian newspapers, likely convinced the government to ask the 69 year old Szentmihályi Szabó to withdraw his name, as a face-saving effort.

The World Jewish Congress issued a stark condemnation of the Hungarian government.

The World Jewish Congress issued a stark condemnation of the Hungarian government.

It is widely assumed that by appointing Szentmihályi Szabó less than three months before the October 12th municipal elections, the Orbán government was trying to win back far-right voters who tend to move between the governing Fidesz party and the overtly fascistic Jobbik Movement for a Better Hungary

WJC President Ronald Lauder did not mince his words in condemning Mr. Navracsics’s attempt at appointing a serial anti-Semite as ambassador. “A man who suggests that Hungary’s Jews are ‘agents of Satan’, ‘greedy, envious, evil and ugly’ is not fit to represent [Hungary] abroad…It is particularly sad and irritating that Hungary, which declared 2014 as a Holocaust memorial year, is once again in the news with this sort of thing,” noted Mr. Lauder.

The WJC president added that such decisions would “not inspire confidence that the Orbán government means business when it says it will fight anti-Semitism.”

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