Major study on Hungary’s Jews reveals concerns about anti-Semitism

A major survey of Hungarian Jews revealed a strikingly liberal, well educated community that sees Israel as very important and views anti-Semitism as a problem.

By: World Israel News Staff

Hungary’s Jews are liberal-minded, view Israel as very important, see anti-Semitism as a problem and tend to be highly educated, according to a survey released last week in Budapest.

About half of the respondents encountered manifestations of anti-Semitism, a fifth said they suffered from verbal abuse and another fifth said they witnessed such abuse.

Only one percent personally experienced a physical attack, and another three percent were eyewitnesses to such an incident.

However, respondents considered the extent of anti-Semitism to be much greater than did the respondents of a survey conducted in 1999.

The survey, presented in book form, was titled, “Jews and Jewry in Hungary in 2017: Results of Sociological Research.”

It was edited by András Kovács, an expert on the subject of Hungarian Jewry who teaches at Central European University, and Ildikó Barna, associate professor at the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) Faculty of Social Sciences in Budapest, where she also serves as a head of the department of Social Research Methodology.

The findings are based on 90-minute interviews with 1,879 people over the age of 18 who consider themselves Jewish and who have at least one Jewish grandparent.

The survey found that attitudes toward Israel are mixed. Two-thirds of respondents consider Israel’s existence very important, but only half of them support the present Israeli government’s policies and 25% of them are outright critical.

Half of them have never thought of moving to Israel, though emigration from Hungary to another country is very much on their minds, as it is among the population as a whole.

The approximate size of the Hungarian Jewish community is difficult to determine. Since there are no official statistics available, the 160,000 estimate offered by the authors is “a very hypothetical” number.

Based on the survey, they estimate that only one percent of those interviewed follow dietary and other Jewish laws while five percent attend religious services, though only occasionally.

The number of mixed marriages as a whole is at 55%, but in the 18-34 age group it has reached 62%. Even so, the younger generation is more likely to keep the most important Jewish holidays.

Seventy-eight percent of respondents said they had a university degree.

Differences in attitude among Jews and non-Jews

The editors compared university graduates in general to similarly educated Hungarian Jews and found major differences in attitudes. A few examples include: condemnation of homosexuality was 41% compared to 2% among Jews, endorsement of capital punishment was 43% compared to 14% among Jews, support for further restrictions on migrants was 66% compared to 14% among Jews, support for restrictions on the number of non-whites allowed to enter Hungary was 43% compared to 3% among Jews, and opposition to abortion was 18% compared to 4% among Jews.

In 1999, only 10% of the respondents identified themselves as European, but today that number is 30%.

According to Eva S. Balogh, who formerly taught East European history at Yale University and now manages the Hungarian Spectrum blog, said that one reason for the shift from a Hungarian to a European identity might be Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s “anti-European propaganda, which the Hungarian Jewish community finds distasteful.”

“The nationalistic propaganda might have exactly the opposite effect on the left-of-center and liberal segments of Hungarian society,” Balogh wrote, “to which the overwhelming majority of Hungarian Jews belong, who are devoted to the idea of Hungary being part of the European Union.”

Balogh also said that Orban’s campaign against billionaire George Soros, a supporter of a pro-immigration agenda, contributed to anti-Semitism.

Orban will be visiting Israel in mid-July. A number of opposition politicians have called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel the meeting due to Orban’s  support for Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy, who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII, and his seemingly anti-Semitic campaign targeting Soros.