Hungarian Jewish leader slams ‘poisonous’ anti-Soros campaign

Chief of staff for Hungary’s PM Orban defends ads, says posters about immigration, not Jewish billionaire’s ethnicity

This photo taken on July 5, 2017 in Budapest, shows an anti-Soros campaign reading "99 percent reject illegal migration" and “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh”. (AP Photo/Pablo Gorondi)
This photo taken on July 5, 2017 in Budapest, shows an anti-Soros campaign reading "99 percent reject illegal migration" and “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh”. (AP Photo/Pablo Gorondi)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — The head of Hungary’s largest Jewish organization says a “poisonous” poster campaign by the government that targets US billionaire George Soros is stoking anti-Semitic sentiments and urged its immediate scrapping.

The posters show a large image of the Hungarian-born Jewish emigre Soros laughing, alongside the text: “Let’s not let Soros laugh last,” a reference to an accusation by the government that the 86-year-old is behind pressure to force Hungary to let in migrants.

Since the posters appeared in public spaces nationwide last Friday, local media has reported several incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti daubed on them.

“These poisonous messages harm the whole of Hungary,” said Andras Heisler, head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities (Mazsihisz), in a letter to Prime Minister Viktor Orban published on the group’s website Thursday.

“We ask you and your government to take action to stop the campaign immediately and remove the posters from our streets and squares,” he said.

George Soros speaks onstage at Lincoln Center on April 18, 2017, in New York City. (Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Physicians for Human Rights/AFP)
George Soros speaks onstage at Lincoln Center on April 18, 2017, in New York City. (Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Physicians for Human Rights/AFP)

Orban has regularly accused Soros, 86, of orchestrating flows of migrants to Europe by financially backing pro-immigration and pro-refugee civil groups.

The government also says groups supported by Soros interfere in Hungary’s domestic affairs and ultimately aim to topple the hardline Orban.

The graffiti “harks back to dark periods in Hungarian history,” according to Heisler whose organization represents Hungary’s 100,000-strong Jewish community.

“This campaign is not openly anti-Semitic, but it is quite capable of giving rise to uncontrolled sentiments including anti-Semitic ones,” said Heisler.

“As our elected leaders you have a historic responsibility to stop hatred getting stronger in our homeland, and not to turn Hungarians against each other,” he said.

The latest campaign is the fourth nationwide media blitz by the government this year that attacks Brussels or Soros for allegedly pressuring Hungary to take in migrants.

Laws passed by parliament this year have also been widely seen as aimed at non-governmental organisations supported by Soros, and the Central European University, a Soros-founded institution in Budapest.

A senior government official said later Friday that the campaign is “not about Soros’s background or identity.”

“It calls attention to the danger represented by Soros in the immigration issue,” Orban’s chief of staff Janos Lazar told a press briefing.

Hungarian Pime Minister Viktor Orban gives a joint press conference in Budapest on July 4, 2017 during a summit of the Visegrad group countries and Egypt. (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)
Hungarian Pime Minister Viktor Orban gives a joint press conference in Budapest on July 4, 2017 during a summit of the Visegrad group countries and Egypt. (AFP Photo/Attila Kisbenedek)

Remarks by Orban last month praising Hungary’s wartime leader and Hitler ally Miklos Horthy have also sparked controversy.

In response to a request by Israel’s envoy in Budapest for clarification, Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto said Hungary has “zero tolerance” for anti-Semitism.

The rows come shortly before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Hungary July 18, the first ever by an Israeli premier.

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