Devorah Talia Gordon
Hungarian-born Andrew Friedman escaped the country with his family during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution at age nine. Friedman, a graduate of UCLA, has been practicing law in Los Angeles for 45 years. He’s currently president of Congregation Bais Naftali and L.A. County Commissioner of the Government Service Commission.
Although Friedman has lived in L.A. ever since his arrival from Hungary, he has kept in close contact with the Hungarian community not only due to his roots, but because “[i]t’s important for them to see people in the U.S. diligently monitoring what’s happening over there.”
Last month, Hungarian Ambassador Réka Szemerkényi arranged for a private meeting for Andrew Friedman with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. The two discussed numerous issues of import to the Jewish community, and Friedman returned to share Orban’s message with the L.A. Jewish community.
The first issue was Hungary’s position regarding the Syrian migrants. “The Prime Minister explained to me that he has decided to build a fence to exclude the illegal immigrants, the reason being because ISIS has stated that they are going to infiltrate these immigrants with terrorists,” said Friedman. “In addition, the Syrians would bring a different culture…which would also adversely affect the Jewish community, because the presence of a large number of Muslims who were educated to be anti-Zionist – read ‘anti-Jewish’ – would increase anti-Semitism in Hungary.”
Another plus for Hungarian Jews is Orban’s statement that Hungary has “zero-tolerance” for anti-Semitism, and his expressed desire to “deal fairly” with Hungary’s over 100,000 Jews, which Orban called ‟an authentic Jewish community.” (Hungary’s Jews are not transplanted, as in countries like Germany, but “never left” the country, even during the War.) Also, in Hungary it is a crime to deny the Holocaust, and Friedman explained a new Parliamentary rule: if someone says something anti-Semitic during a Parliamentary meeting, the Speaker can shut off his microphone. This is in response to recent anti-Semitic remarks during meetings, particularly from those in the extreme right-wing Jobbik party, which have incensed Jews in Israel and the U.S. Interestingly, immediately after Friedman’s visit with the Prime Minister, a member of Jobbik, Tibor Agoston, was fined 750 thousand Hungarian forints for Holocaust denial speech.
While the Parliament has an almost 20-percent representation of the right wing (which, in Europe, typically is comprised of anti-Semitic groups), there is an equal representation of the left wing. “As long as these proportions are kept, which is Orban’s goal, the situation is under control.” Friedman further explained, “No one from the extreme right has been or will be accepted in the Hungarian Government.” (While Hungary is a democracy and the citizens elect a Parliament, the government is under Orban’s leadership.)
According to Friedman, the Hungarian Jewish community is “thriving,” with new education, shuls, Chabad Houses, and the like. Also, there hardly exists any violence or hate crimes like those so prevalent in other European cities, like Paris, Brussels, and Antwerp. “In Budapest, you feel free to walk the streets with a kipah,” Friedman said. There is also a new government-funded program that will refurbish a number of synagogues and cemeteries throughout the country.
Friedman thanked Orban for Hungary’s contribution to the film world with the production of “Son of Saul,” which, with its Holocaust-themed story, was awarded the 2015 Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards. “He [Orban] agreed that it is important to have films of this nature as an educational tool.” Friedman also acknowledged Orban and his country for being the only one to vote with Israel in the European Parliament on the issue of labeling products from the West Bank, a decision which the Parliament approved back in September 2015, which opponents felt was an act of discrimination and boycott.
Friedman presented Orban with an honorary certificate from the City of Los Angeles, signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Paul Koretz. The prime minister presented Friedman with a certificate from Hungary for “exemplary activity for embracing his Hungarian roots and serving the local community, as well as his objective to fight against anti-Semitism.”