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World Jewish leaders urge crackdown on far right

Neo-Nazi parties threatening democracy and minority rights should be banned, Jewish Congress says

Head of Greece's Jewish community says the Greek government has assured him it would soon pass a tough hate-speech law that would outlaw incitement against people because of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation

American businessman Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, delivers a speech during the 14th plenary assembly of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest, 5 May 2013 (Photo: Reuters) American businessman Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, delivers a speech during the 14th plenary assembly of the World Jewish Congress in Budapest, 5 May 2013 (Photo: Reuters) The leader of Greece's Jewish community has told a meeting of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) that the country was "caught by surprise" with the success of Golden Dawn in last year's elections.

Addressing the WJC plenary assembly, held in the Hungarian capital rather than Jerusalem to highlight rising antisemitism in Hungary, David Saltiel said the Greek government, after lobbying from the congress, had assured him it would soon pass a tough hate-speech law that would outlaw incitement against people because of their race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation, and impose up to six years in prison on offenders.

Parliamentary deputies would not be excluded, he said, and parties that receive public funding would see it suspended if their leaders publicly deny the Holocaust - which Golden Dawn leaders have done in the past.

"We think with this law, [Golden Dawn] will be brought back to the small numbers it had before," said Saltiel, who heads the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS).

The WJC also urged Hungary on Tuesday to crack down on the far-right Jobbik party and called on other governments in Europe to consider banning neo-Nazi parties threatening democracy and minority rights.

It also passed a resolution saying Budapest must recognise that Jobbik poses "a fundamental threat to Hungary's democracy.

"Decisive action by all democratic forces against these contemporary expressions of extremism must now be taken," it said, adding a request that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban sign an international declaration on combating antisemitism.

Jobbik, which openly vilifies Hungary's Roma minority and has accused Jews of buying up property to take over Hungary, has been a central issue at the three-day WJC assembly, which brought together Jewish leaders from about 100 countries.

Orban addressed the opening session of the assembly on Sunday evening, issuing a strong denunciation of antisemitism but avoiding any mention of Jobbik.

"He missed a golden opportunity," said WJC President Ronald Lauder, who while introducing Orban had specifically asked him to denounce the populist party.

Lauder later apologised, saying he had not been aware of comments made by Orban to the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth before the congress, in which the prime minister said Jobbik was a real danger to democracy.

"I want to put it on the record that the prime minister really did make a strong statement against Jobbik," Lauder said in his closing remarks to the congress.

Jobbik, which won 17% of the vote in the 2010 election and has 43 of the 368 seats in parliament, held an "anti-Zionist and anti-Bolshevik" rally in Budapest to protest against the WJC meeting being held in the Hungarian capital.

Orban's Fidesz party has a two-thirds majority in parliament, but has lost ground in opinion polls since it took power in 2010. It still has a strong opinion poll lead however and has a good chance of winning next year's election. Support for Jobbik meanwhile has hovered around 10 percent this year.

Quarantine

Robin Shepherd, author of a study for the WJC on neo-Nazi parties in Europe, told the assembly Fidesz was not antisemitic but it competed with Jobbik for votes among nationalists frustrated by the economy and resentful of foreign influence.

"If Orban goes too hard against Jobbik, he's worried he won't be able to scoop up Jobbik's voters," he said.

Shepherd said support for Golden Dawn had risen in opinion polls since the election and the Greek government was so concerned about the country's economic crisis that it did not immediately respond to the challenge it presented.

The study also highlighted the links among the growing strength of such extremist groups, the European economic crisis and latent Nazi-type tendencies in Europe.

"Although neo-Nazi style movements and ideologies are present in other parts of the world, it is unsurprising that an ideology that was born in Europe should be most likely to show a resurgence in Europe inside the party political system," the study said.

The study recommended that mainstream parties effectively quarantine neo-Nazi groups by refusing to appear with them in public or meet with them in private. The "economic crisis, which has nurtured the neo-Nazi cause, may endure or worsen," the document said. "We must be prepared for all eventualities."

The resolution also urged Germany and other countries with neo-Nazi parties to consider banning them.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has decided not to seek a ban on the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) because it is not clear whether such a ban would be constitutional.

But the Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament that represents the 16 federal states, has begun its own effort to ban the party, he said.

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Golden Dawn
Racism
David Saltiel
Hungary
Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS)