A “friendly” football match: Hungary-Israel 1-1

Over the past few days the outrageous behavior of a large group of football fans at the Israeli-Hungarian “friendly” match on August 15 has become an international cause célèbre.

Initially the behavior of the neo-Nazi fans went unnoticed in Hungary, with the possible exception of the rest of those 10,000 people who attended the match. Although they were screaming “stinking Jews” at the top of their lungs all through the match, the most egregious part of their performance occurred during the Israeli anthem.

The incident became widely known only on August 17, two days after the game, when a blogger, a Hungarian who lives in Prague, reported on it. In Hungary only Péter Németh, editor-in-chief of Népszava, felt the need to comment on it in a short editorial. As he said in his note, Hungarians have gotten to the point that a little “zsidózás” is not even worth mentioning.

In the last twenty years the Hungarians have played against the Israelis five times.  The Israelis won twice, the Hungarians once, and twice the match ended in a tie, including the most recent one.

In far-right circles this game was considered to be a very important affair. Some of the hard-core anti-Semites on Facebook and Magyar Hírlap were concerned before the game that “for political reasons the Hungarians must not win the game.” One financial genius added that “Man, if we beat them tomorrow the euro will be worth 320 forints.” A third man announced that “it is ridiculous that there is again a country that our national team may not beat. That’s like when the golden team had to lose against the Soviet Union.” The golden team refers to the Mighty Magyars of 1950s fame.

From Facebook it is also clear that these neo-Nazis were preparing to create a scandal at the game. One participant in the discussion provided the others with a telephone number in case anyone got into trouble with the police.

The Hungarian authorities knew well ahead of time that trouble was brewing and in fact the Israeli national football team was warned of a “severe threat” to their safety in Budapest. From the interview with Eli Guttman, the team’s coach, it is not clear exactly what the Hungarian police did to defend the visitors. We do know that there was cooperation between the Israel security detail that accompanied the team and the Hungarian police because the Israelis’ “bus was sent out of the stadium after the match with a police escort and sirens sounding so that people would think it was [them. They] were asked to stay behind and left later in a bus with the blinds drawn.”

The day started pleasantly enough. The Magyar Labdarúgó Szövetség (Hungarian Football Association) organized a dinner party for the officials of the Israeli delegation that included the president of the Israeli Football Association. In attendance were Sándor Csányi, CEO of OTP and the president of the association, as well as the secretary-general and the vice-president. Ilan Mor, the Israeli ambassador, was also present.

But then came the preliminaries to the match. As usual, the visitor’s national anthem is played first followed by the national anthem of the home team. This is what people in the stadium could hear of the Israeli national anthem:

As days went by more and more details surfaced. One was a photograph taken in the stadium. Tibor Bana, a Jobbik member of parliament, can be seen on the photo in the company of two attractive girls. One of the girls is holding up an Iranian flag in front of her. Jobbik, as is well known by now, has very friendly relations with Iran. It is also likely that the party receives money from the Iranian government. It is pretty clear that Jobbik had a hand in creating this particular scandal with the help of the neo-Nazi football hooligans.

Several days went by and the Hungarian government didn’t feel it necessary to say anything or to apologize to Israel. At last the English-language Israeli paper Haaretz broke the silence and pointed out that “The Hungarian authorities still have not apologized for anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incidents that took place at an August 15 soccer match between the national teams of Israel and Hungary in Budapest. During the so-called friendly match, a warm-up for both teams in advance of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Hungarian fans turned their back on the field during the singing of ‘Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, and waved Iranian and Palestinian flags.”

A day later The Jerusalem Post also reported on the incident. The Post quoted Péter Morvay, editor of ATV, who attended the match with his son: “Not a few lunatics, but the whole bunch of supporters behaved this way.”

After a fair amount of pressure, the Hungarian government released a statement on August 21, almost a week after the incident. There was no apology, but the statement declared that “the Hungarian government deeply condemns the behavior of the football fans who disturbed the dignity of the friendly Israeli-Hungarian football match on August 15.” However, “the extremist behavior is not in direct contradiction with the law, therefore there is no legal ground for the authorities to take immediate action.”

The Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) said that it would investigate the incidents at a meeting today. I guess they are still investigating because as yet there is no news on the outcome of their gathering.

And finally the Israeli national anthem which cannot be heard on the video.

If the tune sounds familiar it is because this 16th century popular Italian song was incorporated by Bedřich Smetana in his symphonic poem Má vlast  as “Vltava.”

78 comments

  1. I some ways agree with Kovach on this one. I do not believe that the police did not know what was happening, but I can see that they had no idea how to act. What do any of you think should of been done? There are no clear guidelines for something like this. Freedom of expression is very murky in Hungary, and many members of the parliament can make anti-semitic or racist remarks without any consequence. So here is a police man (who is certainly not overpaid in Hungary, and their job is very undervalued by society) who hears anti-semitic remarks, people disrupting the event, but that is nothing new. Did they arrest anyone in Cegled because they are treating the Romas? Did they arrest the idiot who sent death threats to the Canadian Hungarian News and such? No. So, what would warrant the police to interfere? WHat would be the outcome?

  2. Some1 :
    I some ways agree with Kovach on this one. I do not believe that the police did not know what was happening, but I can see that they had no idea how to act. What do any of you think should of been done? There are no clear guidelines for something like this. Freedom of expression is very murky in Hungary, and many members of the parliament can make anti-semitic or racist remarks without any consequence. So here is a police man (who is certainly not overpaid in Hungary, and their job is very undervalued by society) who hears anti-semitic remarks, people disrupting the event, but that is nothing new. Did they arrest anyone in Cegled because they are treating the Romas? Did they arrest the idiot who sent death threats to the Canadian Hungarian News and such? No. So, what would warrant the police to interfere? WHat would be the outcome?

    @Some1,

    At some point, these things must be addressed, no? Otherwise regardless of police pay or any other excuse, this will likely continue forever. Is this what another hungarian generation of children should be raised with? Rationalizing prejudice?

    LM

  3. Logicmaster :

    @Some1,
    At some point, these things must be addressed, no? Otherwise regardless of police pay or any other excuse, this will likely continue forever. Is this what another hungarian generation of children should be raised with? Rationalizing prejudice?
    LM

    Absolutely should be addressed. I am only questioning that without proper “guidelines” in place what could the police have done? There was no violence. I am not sure what do you think the police should of done. Can you please let me know.

    The police should of received proper orders from the government for different scenarios. THis was obviously not the case. THe police was out in case violence, etc….
    I do not understand why will it help if we shift the government’s responsibility over to low wage earning police members. Orban and his gang does zero about the situation they have created, and now we will start to blame the members of the police because a large group of anti-semite, neo-nazi tugs are and verbally assaulting a whole nation, and throw anti-semitic remarks. The government simply closes its eyes, sends out mixed messages, and the poor policeman wants to keep his darned job, so they do not get involved. I do not blame them, I blame those who supposed to clearly spell out to the policemen what they should do.

  4. London Calling!

    What should the police have done?

    Simple. What we do in England.

    First and foremost intelligence. Organisations like these (illegal) fascists are infiltrated my the police. They cultivate an insider and have a keen knowledge of the ‘mentality’ and psyche of the brute.

    More importantly they know what is going to happen at the next event – and can draw up plans in advance.

    Importantly too the police recognise that individuals and organisations have a right to protest and march (but not illegal organisations – they would be prevented by mass arrests and, if necessary, a mass presence to protect the minority if they embarked on an illegal march).

    They would ensure that separate factions are kept well apart (for which they have plenty of experience with fighting factions at football matches) and that they are kept well away from, for example, ethnic minorities. These would be ostentatiously protected.

    The whole event would be filmed with police video operators for possible evidence for prosecutions – and this psychologically puts everyone on notice.

    If necessary the whole crowd will be ‘kettled’ if things appear to be getting out of hand – the demonstrators would be ‘contained’ and managed until everyone gets bored.

    Yes I know the ‘intelligence’ aspect smacks of ‘communism’ and concomitant surveillance in which Hungarians are well versed. But many feel this is legitimate force in such circumstances. And everything is done with transparency. If the police don’t act with ‘reasonable and necessary force’ they will cop it in subsequent enquiries.

    And yes sometimes the police get the balance wrong – but violence and confrontation are controlled and in the main prevented. And they are still refining their techniques.

    Apart from the fact that the Hungarian-Thug-Type-Marches wouldn’t have been allowed in the first place – the police here spare no resource to protect those that need to be protected – and control those who need controlling.

    And yes – it is very expensive. But we recognise that democracy would otherwise be the first victim.

    So in essence: Societal awareness – and necessary police control.

    Both are absent at the moment in Hungary.

    Regards

    Charlie

  5. It wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to predict that any sports event featuring Israel in the present climate was high risk. Warning notices handed out with tickets and cops with visible cameras facing the crowd would have been a good start.

    But that presupposes the State, the Hungarian football authorities and indeed the “normal” supporter cares about one iota about anti-semitism as an inherent evil in itself rather than an “inherent” evil only once the Jerusalem Post gets to hear about it

    1. Regardless of locality, soccer stadia seem to be the place to publicly express feelings of intolerance, as was the case in the Hungary-Israel match. Such incidences are widely used at country bashing even though there is no evidence that those feelings may be widely shared.
      On January 31, the New York Times published an article titled “Some Fear a Soccer Team’s Racist Fans Hold a Mirror up to Israel.” Obviously hatred of the “other” is practiced even where one least expects it.

  6. Tomorrow night the Hungary v Romania match will be played behind closed doors with FIFA punishing the Hungarian FA for the anti-semitic bigotry mentioned in the post.

    Unbelievably they (the city government? the Dear Shepherd himself?) have decided to put up large screens to broadcast the game on Felvonulasi Ter. Unbelievable because now there will be 5-10,000 drunk ultra-nats collected in one place where it will be impossible to police them, a place which is 10 minutes stroll away from the Romanian embassy and literally on the border of one of the most highly Roma populated districts in the city.

    It’s almost as if Orban is goading his football hoolie stormtroopers into causing mayhem, a disaster in the making.

  7. oneill :
    Tomorrow night the Hungary v Romania match will be played behind closed doors with FIFA punishing the Hungarian FA for the anti-semitic bigotry mentioned in the post.
    Unbelievably they (the city government? the Dear Shepherd himself?) have decided to put up large screens to broadcast the game on Felvonulasi Ter. Unbelievable because now there will be 5-10,000 drunk ultra-nats collected in one place where it will be impossible to police them, a place which is 10 minutes stroll away from the Romanian embassy and literally on the border of one of the most highly Roma populated districts in the city.
    It’s almost as if Orban is goading his football hoolie stormtroopers into causing mayhem, a disaster in the making.

    I wonder if they will proceed. There will be a strong wind and it is expected to be minus 5 tomorrow night.

    http://www.met.hu/idojaras/elorejelzes/

  8. oneill :
    Tomorrow night the Hungary v Romania match will be played behind closed doors with FIFA punishing the Hungarian FA for the anti-semitic bigotry mentioned in the post.
    Unbelievably they (the city government? the Dear Shepherd himself?) have decided to put up large screens to broadcast the game on Felvonulasi Ter. Unbelievable because now there will be 5-10,000 drunk ultra-nats collected in one place where it will be impossible to police them, a place which is 10 minutes stroll away from the Romanian embassy and literally on the border of one of the most highly Roma populated districts in the city.
    It’s almost as if Orban is goading his football hoolie stormtroopers into causing mayhem, a disaster in the making.

    I can only hope that Orban will be sitting in the crowd, and have fun. Felvonulasi Ter will bring back nice memories of May 1st to the Dear Leader. He would be able to mingle with crowd and enjoy what the game have to offer on the ground. How many policeman will be present I wonder? Will they sell beer, sausage and langos too?

Comments are closed.