David Mandler

Thoughts, feelings, reactions on Hungarian, American, Israeli, Jewish issues

Month: August, 2013

Budapest, Budapest is Still Nice!

Having just returned from the city of my birth, Budapest, (yes, in Hungary), I want to reflect briefly on my experiences there.

Anyone who’s read some of my articles here can see that I’ve been consistently concerned about the direction Hungary has taken since the election of Victor Orban’s FIDESZ Party three years ago. I don’t need to rehearse all of the anti-humanitarian measures this government has taken in the name of humanity and “the nation.” The record is as clear as it is dire.

So, what kind of Budapest did I see on my very brief trip? Decidedly, the answer to that is simple: a very beautiful one! Despite my expectations, I saw no signs of the far-right (i.e. neo-Nazi) scourge that has plagued Hungarian public discourse for many years. Surely, that is not to say that the numerous members  of the Jobbik Party and the banned Hungarian Guard with its various incarnations have disappeared. But if you are a tourist in Budapest, it is very likely that you’ll never see them in the streets at all while you are enjoying your time in the various hot entertainment spots scattered around in the center of Budapest. What you will see is an increased number of renovated houses and buildings (mostly financed by the very European Union the FIDESZ ruling party never misses to disparage).

I was astonished by the sheer number of young tourists having a wonderful time in various parts of Budapest. The neighborhood where the Jewish district used to be before World War II is now a tourist magnet with a plethora of restaurants, bars, and so-called ruins-pubs (romkocsma). My childhood best friend kindly took me to one of these fashionable ruins-pubs called “Fogashaz.” Inside the large tenement-style house (in ruins, as it ought to be), a very comfortable space with a well-appointed bar, an adequate (though mostly empty) dance floor with a trendy DJ, and a ping-pong table greeted us. Clearly, those who like nightlife will find what they seek in Budapest’s nightlife in like places as well as an almost endless variety of entertainment venues.

So, am I plugging tourism to Budapest now? Could that be considered a betrayal of the fight against those who have replaced Hungary’s democratic constitution with one that all but guarantees their political and economic dominance as far as the eye can see? I would hope not. My delight with Budapest can never replace my absolute loathing for those who would selfishly want to take everything away that makes Budapest great.

Despite the encouraging signs of life, most of my acquaintances in Budapest were uneasy about their own situation (be it economic, political or religious) in today’s Hungary. Some have talked about leaving Hungary while most want to stick it out. None discussed the possibility of active resistance, and I can understand why.

The patient is gravely sick but not hopelessly so. I sincerely wish that this extremely beautiful city remain vibrant for decades to come and that the rest of Hungary begin to appreciate what Budapest means.

Were that to happen, the restauration of Hungarian democracy would surely follow.

“The Loft” Publication Announcement:

It is with great pleasure that I announce the publication of my short story, “The Loft” on amazon.com. Enjoy reading it! If you liked it, please write a few words in the review section (or even to just rate it) because the more (positive) reviews the story gets, the more potential readers may decide to read the story. Also, I urge you to share this information on your own Facebook wall. The publicity you, the readers, generate is the best kind! To find the story (or just read what the story is about), please click on the link below.

Thank you very much.


Israel Must Choose: Rename “Life Sentence” or Institute the Death Penalty

Time and again, Israel has released convicted murderers as a good will gesture or in exchange of captured Israeli citizens. Today, the names of the first 26 prisoners to be released have been published.  All 26 have been serving prison terms for murder.

The latest release of murderers at the outset of renewed talks between Israelis and Palestinians underlines one thing: murderers of Israeli citizens can rest assured that there is no such thing as a life sentence in prison in Israel.

To those who believe that the deliberate taking of human life merits severe punishment, this realization is rather disheartening. Palestinians in Israeli jails are generally seen as heroes (even more so if they are serving time for killing Israelis). It is for this reason that Mahmoud Abbas wanted to see the day on which Palestinians (in this case, murderers) are released from jail as a result of his intervention to counter the major “victory” Hamas scored when it successfully pressured Israel into releasing a staggering number of convicted criminals (one thousand and twenty seven, to be precise) two years ago. And if you think that no released prisoners intended to kill Israelis again, a quick glance at the headline “Gilad Shalit release: freed Palestinian prisoner vows to ‘sacrifice’ her life” serves to prove otherwise.

Now it is the Palestinian Authority’s time to celebrate. Human beings who deliberately killed (and in some cases, brutally tortured) other human beings (and not only for political reasons) are to walk the streets of Gaza and the West Bank again. In exchange, Israel will get a chance to talk to Mahmoud Abbas…

Why does this make me angry? Would I be outraged if the situation were reversed and Israeli murderers of Palestinians convicted to serve a life sentence in Palestinian jails were to be released? Before I answer that question, I hasten to add that no such symmetry exists. Palestinians in Israeli jails are entitled to an enormous number of benefits with most opting to complete their higher education courses for college diplomas before consenting to leave Israeli jails although convicted terrorists will no longer be entitled to receive a free university education paid by Israeli taxpayers.

To answer my own question, yes, I find releasing murderers as a political gesture problematic no matter the situation or the nationalities involved. Why? Here are but four reasons.

1. Family members of those who have been killed should never be subjected to seeing the killers of their loved-ones leave jail to resume their lives, especially not when those killers profess a desire to kill again.
2. Those who murder human beings forfeit the right to live in society unless they undergo a complete change of personality, repent sincerely and credibly pledge to change their ways. But even in this case, the relatives of the murder victim should have the ultimate word.
3. Releasing murderers in a political game such as talking about talking about how to talk about peace only serves to encourage future murderers, for upon their eventual return, they will be celebrated as heroes and their family members will receive financial support in recognition of their “glorious” deeds.
4. People who have murdered another human being have traditionally been executed as a punishment. As views on capital punishment have shifted, the standard alternative punishment for murder has become life in prison. An argument against executing wrongfully convicted murderers is that no recourse exists once the death sentence is carried out. In addition, people who oppose the death penalty may do so out of a moral conviction: they do not want to become the instrument of another human being’s death (which is the case when the state executes a human being).

When a sovereign state cannot guarantee that a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole actually means just that, it not only loses its credibility but also closes the last avenue for effective punishment and deterrence.

In light of the above, my first and most humane proposition to Israelis is that they pressure their legislators to introduce a law that would outlaw the possibility of such mass releases of murderers ever again. Yet, any subsequent government could circumvent such laws.

It makes me very sad to conclude that in a country where, in effect, no such thing as a life sentence for murder exists, capital punishment is the only way to ensure just punishment.

How unfortunate that Israel is now such a country.

David Mandler’s short story “The Loft” is available here.