Daughter of late Rep. Tom Lantos returns state award from Hungary

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — The daughter of the late Rep. Tom Lantos is returning a state award to Hungary to protest the same award being presented to a nationalist journalist described as racist and anti-Semitic.

Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett received the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit in 2009.

She joins about 100 other Hungarians or people of Hungarian heritage who have returned the award to protest the presentation of the honor last month to the right-wing journalist and columnist Zsolt Bayer for his writings.

Lantos Swett was honored for establishing the Budapest-based Tom Lantos Institute, which focuses on minority rights. Tom Lantos, who served as a Democratic congressman for California, died in 2008. A native of Hungary, he was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress.

Lantos Swett told the Associated Press that she had hoped to leave her Knight’s Cross award to her children, but could not keep it after it was awarded to Bayer.

The president of Hungary’s main Jewish umbrella organization Mazsihisz Andras Heisler,  returned his award last month.  He described Bayer as a man “who is a racist, who is an anti-Semite, who is polluting Hungary with his destructive sentiments and his burning hatred of the Roma, who is vigilantly protecting the traditions of the Hungarian extremist right, keeping alive feelings of fear and hatred.”

“I do not wish to belong to any community to which Zsolt Bayer belongs, even virtually,” he said.

Bayer, a co-founder of the ruling Fidesz party, has long angered Jews and others with his articles and op-eds in right-wing publications. In April, the Israeli ambassador to Hungary protested to the editor of the Magyar Hirlap newspaper saying that Bayer’s columns “openly advocate anti-Semitic sentiments and incite against the Jewish People and the State of Israel.”

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