Hungary's Orban reassures Israel over anti-Semitism claims

Israel has defended Hungarian leader's criticism of liberal tycoon George Soros

 Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban. Photograph: EPA/Balazs Mohai

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban. Photograph: EPA/Balazs Mohai


Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has assured visiting Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu that he is a staunch defender of his country’s Jews, amid accusations that he is stoking anti-Semitism.

The populist Mr Orban has faced sharp criticism for funding a campaign against Jewish tycoon George Soros, during which posters of the Hungarian-American philanthropist were daubed with the words “stinking Jew”, swastikas and other graffiti.

The Hungarian leader, whose party hopes to take votes from the far right in next year’s elections, also recently praised as an “exceptional statesman” Hungary’s wartime leader Miklos Horthy, who introduced anti-Jewish laws and oversaw the deportation of some 500,000 Hungarian Jews to Nazi death camps.

However, Mr Netanyahu’s government defended Mr Orban’s criticism of Mr Soros, who funds liberal NGOs that regularly criticise their rule – particularly Hungary’s draconian asylum policy and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

“It is the duty of every Hungarian government to defend its citizens whatever their heritage. During the second World War Hungary did not honour this moral and political obligation,” Mr Orban said.

“That is a crime, because we chose collaboration with the Nazis over the defence of the Jewish community. That can never happen again. The Hungarian government will defend all of its citizens in the future.”

Mr Netanyahu said his host had given him “unequivocal” reassurances that there was no official acceptance of anti-Semitism in Hungary, and he thanked Mr Orban for “standing up for Israel in international forums”.

“There is a new anti-Semitism expressed in anti-Zionism,” Mr Netanyahu added.

“That is de-legitimising the one and only Jewish state. In many ways Hungary is at the forefront of the states that are opposed to this anti-Jewish policy and I welcome it and express the appreciation of my government.”

Referring to criticism of his hardline asylum policy and EU legal action over a new Hungarian law tightening control over foreign-funded NGOs, Mr Orban said Budapest had “serious disputes” with Brussels “as Hungary does not want a mixed population, it does not want to change its current ethnic makeup, it will not defer to any external pressure.”

On Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu is due to meet Czech, Polish and Slovak leaders in Budapest, as he seeks to strengthen support for Israel among EU states that often clash with the bloc’s major powers – particularly over the refugee crisis.

Ahead of their meeting, Amnesty International in Hungary and Israel said Mr Orban and Mr Netanyahu were “leaders who thrive on hatred towards universal human values and norms, de-legitimising voices of advocates for human rights and running smearing campaigns against activists”.

After Israel’s ambassador to Budapest criticised the anti-Soros poster campaign, his country’s foreign ministry stepped in and said Mr Soros “continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organisations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”

Andras Heisler, head of Hungary’s federation of Jewish communities, said Mr Netanyahu seemed to be putting ties with Mr Orban above the concerns of the Jewish diaspora.

“The mood here is very bad and bitter,” he told The Times of Israel.