By Marton Eder
A Hungarian politician formerly from a far-right party seen as xenophobic has met Hungary’s chief orthodox rabbi after going public with his Jewish roots.
In a June interview, Csanad Szegedi said his grandparents were orthodox Jews, an announcement that stirred emotions among Hungarian politicians and supporters of Jobbik, a far-right party that defines itself as radical and has 45 seats in Hungary’s 386-seat parliament.
- Associated Press
- Csanad Szegedi, formerly of Hungary’s far-right party Jobbik, is shown celebrating his entry into the European Parliament in 2009.
Some of the Jobbik party’s messages have been considered anti-Semitic. Jobbik MP Zsolt Barath caused outrage in Hungary when in an April speech in parliament he commemorated the 130thanniversary of the Tiszaeszlar blood libel, seen as one of the first anti-Semitic events in modern-era Hungary. “It was an objective speech and Mr. Barath was well prepared. There will be no apology, no resignation,” Jobbik vice-president Elod Novak said at the time.
Mr. Szegedi said his grandparents, who both survived Nazi terror in World War II, had chosen to remain silent about their Jewish heritage and he had only found out about his family’s religious background in December 2011.
Amid mounting pressure from rivals within his party, Mr. Szeged said he would step down from all party positions but hold on to his seat in the European Parliament.
Speaking at a press conference late July, Jobbik’s leader, Gabor Vona, said Mr. Szegedi’s resignation had nothing to do with his roots and the party only looks at “what its members do for Hungary.” Jobbik leadership had called on Mr. Szegedi to resign amid corruption allegations.
Many onlookers, backed by an internal memo, doubt the party’s official line.
“Had he not lied about his origins, then — whether this is a nice thing or not, that is a different question — he would never have become an MEP,” Mr. Novak, the Jobbik vice president, wrote in an internal letter cited by Hungarian daily Nepszabadsag.
His parliamentary status notwithstanding, Mr. Szegedi appears to have befriended his “controversial” heritage. The ex-Jobbik vice president has met Hungary’s chief orthodox rabbi and promised to visit Auschwitz, where his grandmother had been held by Nazi soldiers.
“Had I made any comments in the past years that offended the Jewish community, I ask for forgiveness,” Mr. Szegedi told Rabbi Slomo Koves, according to Nepszabadsag. “Now that I have been faced with my Jewish roots, that I do not regret at all, keeping in touch with the leaders of the Hungarian Jewish community has become especially important for me,” he said.
“I was stunned,” Mr. Koves said when recalling his reaction after Mr. Szegedi’s initial request for a meeting. “But as a rabbi, it is my duty to receive anybody who requests advice or help,” he said. “I wish for him that he be able to redeem the past years. He can do that best, if, apart from getting to know his own roots, he does everything in his power to keep others from being led astray, like he had been,” the rabbi said.
– Follow WSJ’s @EmergingEurope on Twitter