Israel on Sunday indicated that all was forgiven after receiving an official explanation concerning Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s praise for Miklos Horthy, the World War II-era leader who allied Hungary with Nazi Germany leading to the deportation and murder of half a million Jews.
Orban’s statements, made during a speech he gave on June 21 in which he described Horthy and other Hungarian leaders as “exceptional statesmen” for leading the country after the traumatic disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, raised the ire of Israeli officials and Jewish groups.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit Hungary for a meeting with Orban on July 18 and the comments had created tension ahead of the visit.
Orban’s comments were criticized by Andras Heiszler, president of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, who said the Horthy era’s anti-Semitism “cannot be put as an example for future generations.”
The World Jewish Congress also slammed the sentiments, with WJC President Ronald Lauder saying his organization would always condemn “deplorable actions” like Horthy’s and reject any attempts to excuse or justify them.
Israeli Ambassador Yossi Armani had been in contact with Hungarian officials since the speech, Haaretz reported Sunday, seeking an official clarification over the praise of Horthy who, after allying his country with the Nazi regime, then facilitated the deportation of over half a million Jews to death camps where almost all of them were killed.
Having received no response, Armani aired his grievances on a Hungarian national television station last week. On Saturday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto spoke by phone with Armani and then published a statement detailing the content of the conversation.
Szijjarto said he assured the Israeli envoy that the Hungarian government has “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.” Concerning Horthy, the foreign minister said that he had “positive periods but also very negative periods.”
“We need to respect historical facts that clearly point to that,” Szijjarto said.
Referring to Horthy’s failure to protect the Jewish population during the war and his passing of anti-Semitic laws, the foreign minister said “all those are historical transgressions the seriousness of which can’t be diminished.”
In response, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the explanation was sufficient.
“Israel believes the things that the Hungarian foreign minister said to the Israeli ambassador in Budapest are an important clarification concerning the recognition of the crimes by Horthy against the Jews of Hungary,” Nahshon said. “We will always remember the 564,500 of our brothers and sisters from the Hungarian Jewish community who were murdered in the Shoah [Holocaust].”
Opposition MK Ksenia Svetlova of the Zionist Union, nonetheless, called on Netanyahu to cancel his trip to Hungary, Haaretz reported.
“Just like you dared to cancel your meeting with the German foreign minister after he met with Breaking the Silence, I demand that you cancel your visit to Hungary and your meeting with Viktor Orban, who expressed admiration for the dark past of his country during the Shoah, and not for the first time,” she demanded.
Netanyahu canceled an April 25 meeting with the visiting German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel after the latter refused to cancel a sit-down with Breaking the Silence, an NGO that collects anonymous testimonies from IDF soldiers on alleged human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Gabriel also met with B’Tselem, another left-wing NGO group that deals with human rights issues and campaigns against Israeli settlement building. Relations between Israel and Germany were calmed when German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived for a visit in May.