BUDAPEST, Hungary — The president of the World Jewish Congress said Sunday he was concerned about the increasing popularity of Hungary's far-right Jobbik party, particularly among young voters.
American businessman Ronald Lauder told The Associated Press that support for Jobbik showed that Prime Minister Viktor Orban's Fidesz party and the opposition Socialists "are not giving them any hope."
Lauder, whose maternal grandparents were born in Hungary, said that many younger voters were turning to the party led by Gabor Vona not because of anti-Semitism but because "they're looking for an alternative. They're looking for something different."
Recent polls suggest Jobbik is the second most popular party behind Fidesz and lately has been steadily closing the gap.
While Jobbik is mostly shunned by its critics and opponents in Hungary, Lauder said dialogue was crucial.
"I believe ... that it's important to speak to them," Lauder said. "I believe it's important to speak to anybody who's willing to listen."
Lauder said that it was hard for him, as head of the WJC, to meet with a group like Jobbik, because it could be misinterpreted as condoning their politics.
"But the fact is that we, the Jewish people, and also Christians and other faiths, have to meet together with anybody to talk about what can be done in the future," Lauder said.
Lauder added that he did not believe that "everyone in Jobbik is anti-Semitic."
Speaking later during the March of the Living Holocaust commemoration, Lauder said Jobbik was harmful to Hungary's international image.
"Jobbik hurts Hungary. Do not allow Jobbik to destroy Hungary. The people of Hungary are too good for that," Lauder said.
Despite Jobbik, "the Hungarian Jewish community is alive and well and ... is not going anywhere," Lauder told a crowd of several thousand people.
Some 550,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Around 100,000 live in Hungary now, making up the largest Jewish community in Eastern Europe.
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