The far-right Hungarian Jobbik party has elected an anti-Semitic Catholic with Jewish roots as president.

Driving the news

Péter Jakab, 39, is the new leader of the Jobbik – “Movement for a Better Hungary” – party after sweeping the primary election January 25 with 87% of the vote, as the JTA reports.

Jakab has spoken openly about his Jewish ancestry, which is at odds with both his personal and party anti-Semitism.

In a 2014 interview, the politician admitted that “since my childhood, I knew from my parents that my grandmother is Jewish”.

“She raised 11 children in a peasant farmhouse in poverty but in dignity.

“I was also aware that my great-grandfather died at Auschwitz”, Jakab said.

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Despite that family connection to the Shoah, Jakab has a long history of anti-Jewish declarations, going back to at least 2014, when he blamed Jews for anti-Semitism and accused them of wanting to profit from the Holocaust.

“We hear nothing in the media about how Jewish clergy want to cash in on the Holocaust. Let’s face it, they have a huge responsibility in the fact that today, a significant part of Hungarian society feels that we don’t need to remember the Holocaust”, Jakab declared.

“It is these Jewish leaders who generate the prejudices that they can use to collect millions for more programs fighting anti-Semitism”, the new Jobbik president said.

Jakab has also affirmed that Israel “violates Hungarian interests” and that “it is finally time for Hungarian Jewry, and especially its leading class, to be absorbed” into Hungarian society.

Statements like that not only prompted one popular news site to declare in 2018 that anti-Semitism “is the one constant element in Peter Jakab’s career”.

They also fit in well with the rhetoric of the Jobbik party, which until it began a whitewashing operation in 2017 saw as party president a skinhead who confessed to bashing a Roma person in a hate-based attack and another party member call for a list of all Hungarian Jews because they are “security risks”.

Why it matters

Jobbik – a self-described “principled, conservative and radically patriotic Christian party”, but which critics have called racist, nationalist, extreme-right and even fascist and neo-Nazi – is gaining significant ground in Hungarian politics.

In local elections last year, the party stole several key towns away from PM Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, in coalition with left-wing groups.

But perhaps the most interesting part in the whole story is that new Jobbik president Jakab is a practising Catholic.

Jakab’s grandmother was baptised in 1925, and because of that conversion Jakab today describes himself as “Hungarian because I was raised this way [and] because I speak Hungarian and I think Hungarian”, and by no means an “ornamental Jew”.

For Jakab and Jobbik, as political scientist Andrea L. P. Pirro recalls of the party’s electoral programs, “national identity and Christianity are defined as ‘inseparable concepts'”.

“The party believes that ‘national morality can only be based on the strengthening of the teachings of Christ […] A key role is attributed to the revival of Christian communities and churches, which have laid the spiritual, intellectual, and cultural foundations of the Hungarian nation through the centuries”.

As another Jobbik politician, Márton Gyöngyösi, put it in 2013: “The most important role for politicians is to make possible that faith, and Christianity in particular, is defended from this very liberal stream that is sweeping through the Western hemisphere.

The importance of Jobbik in this respect is to fight against all this nonsense that comes from the West – the extreme liberalism that washes away and relativises everything that we consider being normal… All this [liberalism and relativism] is extremely dangerous and it destroyed the European nations, economies, and societies”.

But isn’t Jobbik and Jakab’s “militant ethno-nationalism” and “anti-Semitism and anti-Roma racism” more dangerous that Western “liberalism”? One thing is for sure – it seems difficult to reconcile, at best, with Catholic Christianity.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.