Introductory remarks by Zsolt Németh Minister of State for Foreign Affairs on “The political aspects of Jewish life today” at the international conference “Jewish Life and Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Europe”.

Budapest, 1st October 2013

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Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen!

The title of this conference refers to a concept that is extremely dear for all of us: it speaks about "life". We all share the insight that there is nothing more important than life; protecting, cherishing, promoting and supporting life is a virtue that binds the whole human civilization together, and binds us, the participants of this conference together, too. We may come from very different backgrounds, very different cultural or religious contexts; we are all united in our "respect for life".

However, while we commit ourselves repeatedly and emphatically to the eternal value of respecting life as the fundament of human civilization, we are all aware of the fact that there have always been powers that chose to destroy life, chose the destruction of life. When we are together on a conference about Jewish life in Europe, it is a must that we remember this. We must remember and not forget the millions of Jewish lives that were attacked, tortured and destroyed in the very heart of Western civilization, here, in this part of the continent, too. Committing ourselves to the value of respecting life also makes us to commit ourselves unconditionally to the imperative of the "never again!"

When we speak about the "Political aspects of Jewish life" - this must be our single point of departure: "never again": it must never happen again, that our fellow citizens are deprived of their dignity and deprived of their lives, based on horrendous ideologies like Nazism, or on any other forms of anti-Semitism or racism. Therefore, it must be the common denominator of all democratic politics that there are no bridges between the democratic political powers and those who openly or indirectly play with the dangerous fire of anti-Semitic and racist sentiments. This is our civilizational obligation. Only if we are very clear about this – and the Government of Hungary is very clear about this – we are entitled to speak about Jewish life in Europe today, and about the political aspects of it in our part of the world.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

It is symbolic that this conference takes place in the Hall of the former Upper House of the Hungarian Parliament. These walls were witnesses to the dark days when anti-Semitic laws were adopted by the lawmakers of that time. We know that it was tragic not only for the Jewish community in Hungary, but it was also a true Hungarian national tragedy, because it is always a tragedy for the whole nation when it moves away from the solid foundations of European civilization and choses death against life.

But it is symbolic, too, that now we sit here, surrounded by the same walls and discuss the questions of contemporary Jewish life in Hungary and in Europe. It shows that the powers that intended destruction of life have been defeated and Jewish life is flourishing today in Europe and, of course, in Hungary, a country that has the third largest Jewish community in the European Union.

We often speak about Jewish renaissance in Hungary and it is true. I am sure that during our two-day conference we will learn a lot about it. Jewish culture has always been an enriching, integral part of the culture of Hungary and we witness today that it is regaining its prominent place in the public life that it deserves. The Hungarian government welcomes and supports this process.

The Hungarian Jewish community has of course many links to the State of Israel. And the other way round: there is a large community of Israeli citizens who have multiple ties to Hungary as the country of their ancestors, who speak Hungarian and share our Hungarian cultural identity. We could say that Israel is the “eighth neighbor” of Hungary: the Hungarian Jewish community in Israel is as large that it can be compared to the size of the Hungarian minority communities in our geographically neighboring countries. And I am glad to see that there is a high demand for Hungarian citizenship also in Israel and our embassy there is pleased to assist those who intend to express their belonging to both Israel and Hungary, by applying for the citizenship.

These close ties make it obvious that Hungary is deeply interested in the security of the State of Israel. A major aspect of anti-Semitism nowadays is, indeed, the denying of the right of Israel to exist, or the unfounded criticism of the Israeli democracy. One can, of course, be critical about policies of Israel as a democratic State, but that is completely different from assailing the State of Israel for its identity. We all have to unite our efforts at the international stage in order to combat this form of anti-Semitism, too.

And, of course, we believe, in line with the political legacy of Tom Lantos, that all peoples, also the peoples of the Middle-East have the right to live in dignity, peace and security. That is why we are closely following the current developments of the Middle-East peace process. Hungary also greets the newly restarted and intensified talks between Israel and the Palestinians, facilitated by the US diplomacy, for reaching a final status agreement in the framework of a two-state solution.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

As we speak about the promising aspects of life we cannot be silent about some warning signs either. It is alarming that today, seven decades after the Shoah, we must speak about the phenomenon of anti-Semitism again. We had hoped that this despicable ideological distortion could be long forgotten. But, as we all know it, it is not the case in Europe and in other parts of the world, and also we, here in Hungary, have to tackle this issue continuously.

The government of Hungary makes it very clear that Hungary does not tolerate any form of anti-Semitism, any incitement for hatred in public or any form of racism. In order to implement this, we have introduced strict legislation so that law enforcement in Hungary has suitable legal instruments and authorization to prevent these phenomena. On the other hand we believe that education and publicity must play an important role in combating anti-Semitism.

We work closely together with the Jewish communities in Hungary to find ways how to strengthen the presence of topics in our educational system that are necessary for preventing young generations from falling prey of these destructive ideologies.

For this reason, last year, on the centenary of his birth, Raoul Wallenberg was celebrated throughout Hungary and abroad, in a joint effort with the Embassies of Israel and Sweden. In 2014, we are going to commemorate the sad 70th anniversary of the beginning of the mass deportations of our Hungarian Jewish fellow citizens. We shall use this anniversary to mobilize all possible means to remind ourselves the imperative of “never again”. A special government committee is preparing this year of remembrance, and Hungary is ready to chair the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) for the year 2015.

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Many of us believe that Life has a transcendental dimension, that Life is the gift of the Eternal One. We read in the Bible: “I have set before you life and death..., now, choose life!” (Deuteronomy 30:19). I wish for all of us, that when we speak about the practical political aspects of Jewish life today, we should never forget this imperative. With these thoughts I wish this conference and this panel that all our deliberations should lead us closer to a better world that is characterized by an unconditional respect for Life. Thank you for your kind attention!

(Ministry of Foreign Affairs)