The Hungarian national football team, after fans chanted aggressively anti-Semitic abuse during a game with Israel, has been ordered to play the next World Cup qualifier in an empty stadium.
The international governing body of football, known as FIFA, also fined the Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) 40,000 Swiss Francs ($43,000) as punishment for anti-Semitic acts by Hungarian fans.
The Zurich-based FIFA announced the sanctions on January 8, after completing an investigation into reports that Hungarian fans not only turned their backs during the playing of Israel's national anthem, Hatikva [The Hope], but also chanted anti-Semitic slogans such as "stinking Jews" and "Heil Benito Mussolini" at a match against Israel in Budapest on August 15.
The FIFA Disciplinary Committee said it "unanimously condemned the abhorrent episode of anti-Semitism" and actions of a "political, provocative and aggressive nature perpetrated by supporters of the Hungarian national team."
According to the FIFA Disciplinary Code, the home football association is liable for improper conduct among spectators.
FIFA said the Hungarian national team would be forced to play the World Cup qualification match against Romania, set for March 22, without spectators in the stadium. FIFA also warned that if another such incident occurs, the Hungarian team could be excluded from the next World Cup tournament, scheduled to be held in Brazil in mid-2014.
MLSZ called the punishment excessive and said it would file an appeal against the decision.
The case involving Hungarian football is just the latest in a rapidly growing list of anti-Semitic incidents in Hungary, home to around 100,000 Jews amid a total population of about 10 million.
Some analysts believe the open climate of anti-Semitism in Hungary is partly being fuelled by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz Party [Alliance of Young Democrats]. Orban's government has been attempting to steer Hungary through a severe economic crisis in which the unemployment rate has skyrocketed and the country's credit rating has been downgraded to "junk" status.
Critics say Orban has been turning a blind eye to the rise in anti-Semitism in an effort to blunt the growing popularity of the anti-Semitic nationalist party, Jobbik [The Movement for a Better Hungary], the third-largest party in the Hungarian Parliament. Local observers say anti-Semitism is a key part of Jobbik's strategy to enhance its chances of winning the parliamentary elections in 2014. Jobbik is especially popular with Hungary's influenceable younger generation, which, observers say, is at risk of becoming increasingly racist and supportive of all forms and expressions of hate.
In December, Balazs Lenhardt, and independent parliamentarian, was arrested for burning an Israeli flag at an anti-Zionist demonstration in Budapest. The demonstration was organized by two ultra-nationalist groups, the Guardians of Carpathian Homeland Movement and the Guard Federation, and held in front of the Hungarian Foreign Ministry. Those who attended the rally shouted anti-Semitic slogans such as "Filthy Jews" and "To Auschwitz with You All."
In November, Marton Gyongyosi, an MP for the Jobbik party, called for the creation of a list of Hungarian lawmakers and members of the Hungarian Cabinet who are of Jewish origin. Gyongyosi made the request during a November 26 parliamentary debate on Israel's military operations to combat Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. He said Jews represent a "national-security risk" by allegedly slanting Hungarian foreign policy in Israel's interest.
On November 29, Elod Novak, a lawmaker for the Jobbik party, demanded that a Parliament colleague, Katalin Ertsey of the opposition LMP Party, resign because she has Israeli citizenship in addition to her Hungarian nationality. Local media quoted Novak as saying that "Israel has more deputies in the Hungarian Parliament than they have in the Israeli Knesset," and that this caused the Hungarian Parliament to make "favorable" decisions toward Israel.
In October, Andras Kerenyi, a Budapest Jewish leader, was attacked by an assailant who kicked him in the stomach and shouted obscenities at him, including "rotten filthy Jews, you all will die." The attack came after the same assailant had shouted anti-Semitic remarks through the door of a synagogue in the city.
In August, Csanad Szegedi, a fascist politician known for his anti-Semitic rhetoric was expelled from Jobbik after Szegedi admitted he has Jewish roots and that his grandmother was a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust. As a leading member of the anti-Semitic party, Szegedi frequently appeared at political rallies where he accused Jews of "buying up" Hungary and desecrating national symbols.
Also in August, Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos cancelled plans to stage an anti-Semitic play at a city-funded theater after Hungarian intellectuals -- Jews and non-Jews alike -- said the issue was a test case regarding increasing government tolerance of anti-Semitic behavior.
The canceled play, "The Sixth Coffin," is set in 1920 France and features a group of powerful Jews plotting to destroy Hungary and plunge humanity into another world war shortly after the end of World War I. The drama was set to premiere in February 2013 in Budapest's renowned New Theatre.
In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Adam Fischer, a music director at the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, said the staging and sponsoring of "The Sixth Coffin" would have been part of an ongoing process of growing acceptance of anti-Semitism in Hungary. He said: "Things that were unthinkable five years ago are acceptable today. An artist must speak up when a publicly funded theater in the capital of an EU country plans to show anti-Semitic pieces -- something that has not happened since the war."
In July, vandals desecrated 57 graves in a Jewish cemetery in the city of Kaposvar, located 190 kilometers (115 miles) southwest of Budapest. Local Jewish leader Lazlo Rona said the vandalism, which caused 12,000 euros ($16,000) in damage, was "clearly motivated by racism."
On July 17, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Hungarian President Janos Ader in Jerusalem and expressed his concern about the "resurgence of anti-Semitism in Hungary."
Also in July, Hungarian state prosecutors arrested Laszlo Csizsik-Csatary, an alleged Nazi war criminal, now 97 years old, in his apartment in Budapest. Csizsik-Csatary was a police commander in charge of a Jewish ghetto in the city of Kosice (then part of Hungary, now part of Slovakia). During World War II, he allegedly helped deport more than 15,000 Jews to their deaths at the Auschwitz concentration camp. After the Allies won the war, he fled the town. In 1948, he was convicted in absentia of war crimes in Czechoslovakia and was sentenced to death.
In June, the 90-year-old retired Chief Rabbi Joseph Schweitzer was accosted near his Budapest home by a man who insulted him and shouted, "I hate all Jews." A day earlier, a reporter from the daily newspaper Nepszabadsag was called a "dirty Jewish whore" and was spat on by people while she was covering a taxi strike in Budapest, according to a video posted on the publication's website.
That same month, the Hungarian Socialist Party sent an open letter to Prime Minster Orban, warning that Hungary was experiencing a "serious moral crisis" triggered by the government's "revitalizing of the historic crimes of the Horthy era."
Over the past 18 months, several municipalities have named streets and erected statues to honor Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian Nazi collaborator. Under Horthy, an estimated 500,000 Hungarian Jews were sent to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps. The Socialist Party called on Orban to stop "the revival of the cult of anti-Semitism."
In May, Orban expanded the reading curriculum for schools to include books by anti-Semitic authors such as Istvan Sinka, Dezso Szabo, Albert Wass and Jozsef Nyiro. In an open letter to the Hungarian Ministry of Culture, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary wrote that the authors "spread hatred and anti-Semitism during their lives. It is unacceptable that their writings be taught to the young Hungarian people."
On May 27, members of the Hungarian parliament attempted to move Nyiro's remains from Madrid, where his ashes were buried in 1953, to the Romanian town of Odorheiu Secuiesc, once part of Hungary. But the Romanian government blocked the plan because Nyiro, a fascist parliamentarian associated with Nazism, was an outspoken anti-Semite.
Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said Romania "doesn't accept commemorations and anniversaries for people who were known for anti-Romanian, anti-Semite and pro-fascist behavior."
Instead of the reburial, Nyiro loyalists opted for a veneration ceremony, which was attended by the leadership of the Jobbik party, as well as by the speaker of the Hungarian Parliament, Laszlo Kover.
Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor, sent a letter to Kover saying he was furious that Kover had participated in the ceremony honoring Nyiro, an act he said reflected the desire of the Hungarian government to gloss over the country's dark past. Wiesel wrote: "I found it outrageous that the Speaker of the Hungarian National Assembly could participate in a ceremony honoring a Hungarian fascist ideologue."
In April, Zsolt Barath of the Jobbik party claimed that Jews had been implicated in a notorious blood libel case in northern Hungary 130 years ago. In a speech in front of the Parliament building, Barath cited the 1882 blood libel case in the village of Tiszaeszlar in which 15 local Jews were accused of murdering a Hungarian girl, Eszter Solymosi. The case triggered widespread anti-Semitic hysteria, but after a lengthy trial the Jews were acquitted.
In his speech, Barath questioned the outcome of the Tiszaeszlar trial and said the culprits had never been determined. He said: "As we can see, there is no clear explanation, we do not know what happened to Eszter. Nevertheless, there is one point common to the known variants: The Jewry and the leadership of the country were severely implicated in the case." Barath said the verdict acquitting the Jews had been due to "outside pressure."
In February, Marton Gyongyosi of the Jobbik party questioned the Holocaust; he claimed that Jews were colonizing Hungary and that Israel runs "a Nazi system." In an interview with the London-based Jewish Chronicle, Gyongyosi questioned whether 550,000 Jews were really killed or deported from Hungary during World War II. "It has become a fantastic business to jiggle around with the numbers," he said. Gyongyosi called successful Israeli businesses in Hungary a threat and "expansionism."
Also in February, the New York-based Anti-Defamation League published a report on European anti-Semitism which shows that anti-Semitism is becoming increasingly entrenched in Hungary. The survey reports that 55% of all Hungarians believe that "Jews are more loyal to Israel than to Hungary" and 73% believe that "Jews have too much power in the business world." In addition, 75% of Hungarians believe that "Jews have too much power in international financial markets," and 63% believe that "Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust."
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.