Tag Archives: Judit Járai

Katrina Lantos Swett returns her Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit

Népszabadság reported this morning that Katrina Lantos Swett, president of the Tom Lantos Foundation and Institute for Human Rights and Justice, returned her Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit. With her gesture the number of those who expressed their disgust over the decoration of Zsolt Bayer by returning their own awards has increased to 109.

Katrina Lantos recalled that her father was the only Holocaust survivor who served in the U.S. Congress. He was a real Hungarian patriot who, despite all the tragedies he witnessed, “never lost his love for the country. For three decades he did all he could for Hungary.” She herself continued in this tradition and tried to pass the linguistic and cultural traditions of her family on to the younger generation. She was hoping to give the Knight’s Cross to her children one day and is sorry that by returning the decoration she will not have this opportunity. “The Hungarian government bestowing the Knight’s Cross to Zsolt Bayer stained this noble decoration.” She added that if her father were alive he would ask the government “to take back this unearned decoration from Bayer.” I should add that Judit Járai, the Washington correspondent for the Hungarian Telegraphic Agency (MTI), didn’t find Katrina Lantos’s announcement newsworthy.

Katrina Lantos Swett

Katrina Lantos Swett

A few words about the foundation and the institute that is being financed by the Hungarian government. Tom Lantos died suddenly in 2008, and shortly after his death it was proposed to establish a foundation and institute in his memory. But by the time the institute began to take shape there was a change of government. The new prime minister, Viktor Orbán, had had a somewhat strained relationship with Tom Lantos. The last time he asked for an interview in Washington, Lantos made him wait for three days, and at the end of the meeting there was no joint press conference. Orbán left and Lantos had a few measured words to say about their differences.

As was expected, the Tom Lantos Institute’s board was composed primarily of Fidesz faithfuls whose views were a far cry from Tom Lantos’s. For example, Maximilian Teleki of the Hungarian American Coalition based in Washington and Kinga Gál, Fidesz EP MP. The Hungarian American Coalition is a decidedly right-of-center organization that has always favored Fidesz. Just to give you an idea of their bias, here is a story in which I myself was involved. One day sometime in 2002 I read that the Coalition had paid for about 20 members of the Hungarian parliament to spend a couple of weeks in Washington to take a closer look at American democracy in action. They all turned out to be Fidesz PMs. When I asked the then president of the Coalition why they invited only Fidesz MPs, he told me that the socialists and the liberals had turned down the invitation. It was a lie, as I found out in no time from the leader of the socialist parliamentary delegation.

So, the Tom Lantos Institute has been a controversial project from the beginning, mostly because of Viktor Orbán’s insistence on making it a party foundation. After all, he must have figured, it is his government that sponsors it and therefore it is his. This is how his mind works. The fact is that the government has given a fair amount of money to the institute. The institute’s website has no detailed information about its finances. All we know is that under “Donors and partners” they list only two donors: the Hungarian Foreign Ministry and the U.S. Embassy in Budapest. We know that in 2009 the institute received 3 billion forints from the government to cover expenses for five years.

The staff consists of nine full-time associates, of whom five are researchers. The other four deal with finances, communication, and administrative duties. Otherwise, the focal points of the institute’s activities are “Jewish life and anti-Semitism,” “Roma rights and citizenship,” and “human and minority rights.” The institute’s publications are mostly texts of lectures delivered at conferences organized by the institute.

In 2011 Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, visited Budapest specifically for the opening of the institute. At that time I received a letter from a very reliable source who called himself “Diplomat Anonymous.” He begged Clinton not to go to Budapest. I published the letter in its entirety at that time. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s especially painful to hear that you may be coming here to bless the opening of the Tom Lantos Institute (TLI). I didn’t know the late Congressman well; we only shook hands once in Washington. But I know that he fought against prejudice, he fought for human rights. Yes, to his great credit, he cared about the Hungarian ethnic minority in the neighboring countries, and the Institute may well publish books or pamphlets on that issue. But what about media freedom here? What about anti-Semitism? Will TLI address these painful issues? I predict that it will not – it cannot — because the Orbán government authored this very restrictive media law, and it doesn’t believe there’s anti-Semitism in Hungary. As for the Roma issue, which is the most agonizing social problem here, please ask an aide to check out the background of Rita Izsák, TLI’s new Director. In the Roma community, of which she’s a member, she’s known as Uncle Tom. She will respect the wishes of the government, which, after all, is TLI’s sole financial backer.

Since then Rita Izsák has left the institute. In 2013 Anna-Mária Bíró became the new director. She hails from Transylvania, where in the 1990s she was adviser to the president of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania or, as it is known in Hungarian, Romániai Magyar Demokrata Szövetség (RMDSZ), a right-of-center party. Most of the researchers are young women. Just recently the institute hired a young Hungarian program manager for Jewish life and anti-Semitism and a publications and communications officer from New Zealand. It is hard to pass any judgment on the work the institute is doing based on the scant information that is available.

But let’s return to the president of the Hungarian American Coalition, Maximilian Teleki, who was interviewed by Népszabadság in connection with Katrina Lantos’s return of the Knight’s Cross. He expressed his astonishment at the government’s decision to give a decoration to Bayer and added that “many of us supported some if not all steps of the Fidesz government. We especially approved of their announcement of ‘zero tolerance’ against anti-Semitism. Now we ask ourselves how they are able to go against their own pledge. Two steps forward and one big one backward?” Mr. Teleki, who by the way doesn’t speak Hungarian so his knowledge of the present political situation must be limited, came to the conclusion that the political views of Jobbik and Bayer are identical. Well, just for his information, Bayer is a member of Fidesz and without the blessing of Viktor Orbán he would not be able to publish the smut he does. The members of the Hungarian American Coalition should wake up and admit to themselves that, at least since 1994, they have been supporting a party and a government which no real democrat with a modicum of conscience should. Make a clean break instead of constant excuses. It doesn’t reflect well on the Hungarian American Coalition.

September 2, 2016

Hungarian public opinion on world leaders: Putin favored over Merkel

I ended yesterday’s post saying that Hungarians still favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump despite the biased reporting by Judit Járai, Washington correspondent of MTI, the Hungarian Telegraphic Agency. This is especially surprising in view of the constant attacks on Hillary and Bill Clinton in the right-wing, pro-government press. See, for example, the many articles dealing with Clinton, always in a negative light, in Magyar Idők.

Thanks to a recent public opinion poll by the Pew Research Center conducted in ten European and four Asia-Pacific countries as well as Canada and the United States, we have a fairly up-to-date assessment of opinions about the United States, the American people, President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Angela Merkel, and Vladimir Putin. The following European countries were included in the survey: France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

pew2

President Obama has remained a very popular leader in most of the ten European countries studied. The Swedes (93%), the Dutch (91%), and the Germans (86%) are most enthusiastic about him. In Poland and Hungary enthusiasm for the American president is less than overwhelming (58%). As for the Greeks (41%), even the Chinese (52%) have a higher opinion of Obama. Obama’s median score in Europe is 77%.

Hillary Clinton is less popular than Obama, but she still has a 59% median approval rating in Europe. Her regional pattern of approval is similar to that of Obama. The Swedes, the Germans, and the Dutch have a very high opinion of her while only 44% of Hungarians have confidence in the Democratic candidate as opposed to 33% who do not. The rest (23%) have no opinion, which indicates that far too many Hungarians don’t have enough information to make a choice. Citizens of western European countries are, on balance, much better informed.

Opinions about Donald Trump are strongly negative in Europe. Again, the greatest lack of confidence in the Republican candidate is in western Europe: Sweden (92%), Germany (89%), the Netherlands (88%), France (85%). In Poland and Hungary only 43% and 42% of the population have a negative opinion of Trump. Again, we see that Poles and Hungarians don’t know enough about the American candidates. In the case of Hungary,  37% of those questioned didn’t have an opinion on Trump. In Poland, the situation was even worse: 42% didn’t answer or didn’t have an opinion. The percent of Trump sympathizers is highest in Italy (21%), Hungary (20%), Poland (15%), and the United Kingdom (12%). Greece is an interesting case. Greeks have no confidence in either Clinton (78%) or Trump (76%).

The Pew survey released more detailed data on Italy and the UK. They wanted to know whether the Forza Italia and UKIP voters had more confidence in Trump than voters of other parties. And indeed, 30% of Forza Italia and UKIP voters preferred Trump to Clinton. This breakdown of Trump supporters in Italy and the United Kingdom inspired Magyar Nemzet to approach the Pew Research Center for more detailed data on the Hungarian situation. On the basis of the information provided, they came to the conclusion that 26% of Fidesz and 28% of Jobbik voters have confidence in Trump as a world leader. Higher than the national average of 20%.

Even if the anti-Clinton propaganda didn’t quite succeed, the Orbán government’s anti-Merkel campaign certainly did. While a month and a half ago the Swedes (84%), the Dutch (83%), the Germans (73%), the French (71%), and the Brits (69%) believed that Merkel is a competent world leader, the majority of southern Europeans (Italians, Spaniards, Greeks) had no confidence in her. She is, not surprisingly, most unpopular in Greece (89%). But Hungary’s rejection rate is also very high, 63%, and its approval rate of Merkel, at 29%, is the second lowest in Europe.

When it comes Vladimir Putin as a responsible world leader, Hungary has the dubious distinction of being the most confident (38%) in the Russian president of any country surveyed in Europe. I may add that Poles have the lowest number of Putin fans (7%). Putin’s popularity in Hungary is boosted by Fidesz and Jobbik voters. Forty-nine percent of Fidesz voters and 48% of Jobbik sympathizers trust Putin as a world leader, a good 10% higher than the Hungarian median. As Gábor Horváth, foreign affairs journalist of Népszabadság, wryly remarked, “it is a strange turn of history that the right- or extreme-right respondents trust a former KGB colonel more” than Angela Merkel. And if we add to this result the high number of Trump admirers, an interesting picture emerges. Hungarians don’t seem to realize that Putin is a danger to their own region and that, based on what he has said about alliances, Trump would be as well. This is what happens when nine-tenths of the media is under the thumb of an autocratic ruler served by minions like Judit Járai.

August 15, 2016

 

The Washington voice of MTI: Judit Járai

The two pro-government dailies, Magyar Idők and Magyar Hírlap, don’t express their editorial opinions on the U.S. presidential election too often. They seem to be satisfied reprinting the reports of Magyar Távirati Iroda/MTI coming from its Washington correspondent Judit Járai, who is a fully committed ideologue of the right, if not the extreme right. Járai arrived in the United States only a few months ago, but this is not her first stint in Washington. She was the correspondent of Magyar Rádió/MR between 2004 and 2010. She turned out to be a biased reporter whose knowledge of the English language and the American media was scant. After her return to Budapest, I wrote a Hungarian-language article about her incredible ignorance and her misrepresentation of the U.S. political process. If you know Hungarian and want to have a good laugh, read my piece in galamus.hu.

So, Járai is back and is continuing where she left off six years ago, except that now she can do much more damage than before. As the correspondent of MTI, which supplies news stories to all Hungarian media outlets, regardless of their political persuasion, her biased reporting can spread far and wide. The leadership of MTI must be very satisfied with Járai’s reporting because almost every article she sends to Budapest is designated as “Judit Járai reports from Washington,” something that was not customary during the tenure of her predecessor, Demeter Pogár.

Jarai

In my Hungarian article I noted that Járai doesn’t seem to know that a reputable journalist doesn’t rely on the notorious National Enquirer as a source. She still hasn’t learned which American sources are reliable and which are not. This resulted in MTI passing along misinformation, which has remained largely uncorrected.

Here is the story. A right-leaning internet site, DailyCaller, published an article about Khizr Khan, the father of the slain Muslim war hero whose appearance at the Democratic National Convention was one of its most memorable moments. The author claimed that Khan had written extensively on Sharia law, which he considers to be superior to all others. It is unlikely that Járai read this short, not very coherent post, but she certainly discovered an article by Paul Sperry in the right-wing Breitbart News. On August 2, under the headline “Khizr Khan Believes the Constitution ‘Must Always Be Subordinated to the Sharia’,” Sperry offered a fuller account of two publications by Khizr Khan: a very short book review and a juristic classification of Islamic law. Sperry, I assume quite intentionally, completely misinterpreted Khan’s writings. On the same day, Khan appeared on CNN and in a conversation with Anderson Cooper explained that he couldn’t possibly be an adherent of Sharia law for the simple reason that there is no such thing. “There are laws of various Muslim countries which are a hodgepodge of British laws, French laws, Portuguese laws. In them, there is tremendous discrimination of genders which disqualifies them under the constitution of the United States.” Since then, a detailed critique of Sperry’s interpretation appeared in the Huffington Post titled “Breitbart Tried To Smear Khizr Khan, But Face-Planted.” By the way, Breitbart is still on Khan’s case. Now the site tries to besmirch his legal qualifications by talking about his age when he passed the bar exam.

Judit Járai most likely wasn’t paying attention to the fact that, aside from Breitbart News, no respectable American newspaper picked up the spurious story. Nor that Khan had explained his position on the subject on CNN two days earlier. Otherwise she wouldn’t have filed a report on August 4 taking the accusations against Khan as proven fact. And of course she didn’t take the trouble to check Breitbart’s sources, because if she had (and if her English is good enough) she would have discovered that Breitbart’s accusations were unfounded.

Járai makes no effort to hide her political bias in her reporting. Here are a couple of telling sentences from her Khan story. She describes Khan as “a lawyer from North Carolina who after the party meeting [pártgyűlés] arrived in Washington, where he continually delivers indictments [vádbeszédeket] against the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.” Her disapproval and sloppiness shine through.  For starters, Khan lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, not in North Carolina. And then there is her choice of the word ‘indictment.’ In this country a grand jury hands down an indictment only if it finds, based on evidence presented to it, that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed by the suspect. A loaded word, and one that is especially loaded in Hungarian. Khan was not delivering an indictment, he was expressing his opinion. In a democracy this is not a sin. As for the “party meeting,” it is an odd way to describe the party convention. As far as I know, the Hungarian word is “konvenció.” Or, here is another sentence by the “objective” reporter of MTI: “Khan, who is invariably introduced as a ‘Pakistani-American’ by the Clinton campaign team and the liberal media, is an expert on the doctrine of Sharia law.” What is wrong with describing Khan as a Pakistani-American? He was born in Pakistan and later in life he and his family emigrated to the United States where he became an American citizen. A perfect description of Khan’s status. But obviously Járai’s mind works differently. To her Khan is first and foremost a Muslim and a Pakistani. The unnatural emphasis on Khan as an American is a political ploy to drum up public resentment against Donald Trump.

Járai’s report was published by Magyar Idők and a couple of other mostly right-wing or extremist internet sites, Gondola, Hunhir, Dzsihádfigyelő, and a few independent ones whose editors were not careful. To my surprise, the next day Magyar Idők ran (well, actually, buried) a correction under the unlikely headline “The Clintons’ man is under fire.” Buried in the story is the crucial sentence admitting that Khan didn’t express his own opinions but rather “summarized legal arguments” on Sharia.

I’m sure that if one took the trouble one would find hundreds of subtle and not so subtle comments in Járai’s reports favoring Trump and denigrating Clinton. But, for now, Hungarians prefer a Clinton presidency by a large margin. Her biased reporting hasn’t changed their minds. More about this tomorrow.

August 14, 2016