Hungarian PM tells EU to improve its ties with Israel
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'If Europe does not cooperate with Israel, it is punishing itself, which is pointless'

Hungarian PM tells EU to improve its ties with Israel

Himself not a darling in Brussels, Viktor Orban urges European Union to restore ‘common sense’ in its policy toward Jerusalem

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

PM Netanyahu and the heads of state from Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland, in Budapest, July 19, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)
PM Netanyahu and the heads of state from Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland, in Budapest, July 19, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

BUDAPEST — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Wednesday called on the European Union to improve its relations with Israel, saying that Brussels’ current policy toward Jerusalem was nonsensical and hurt its own interests.

At a joint appearance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and three other prime ministers from EU member states in Central Europe, Orban implied that the Jewish state is a bulwark against radical Islamism and protects the continent against massive waves of migration from the Middle East.

“Once again, we should reiterate our acknowledgement towards Israel for what it does for the security of Europe,” Orban said at a meeting of the Visegrad Group, a political alliance of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, held in Budapest’s Vigado concert hall.

“In the future, we shall promote that the cooperation between the European Union and Israel become better,” he went on, speaking in Hungarian. “If Europe does not cooperate with Israel, it is punishing itself, which is pointless. And therefore, we shall propose in the upcoming period that the Israeli-EU cooperation should return to the field of common sense.”

Given his adamant opposition to refugees entering Hungary and other controversial policies, Orban himself is not on good terms with the EU, routinely criticizing the union and accusing it of endangering the continent.

PM Netanyahu and the leaders of the Visegrad Group -- Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland -- in Budapest, July 19, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)
PM Netanyahu and the leaders of the Visegrad Group — Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic and Poland — in Budapest, July 19, 2017 (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Orban made the aforementioned comments just minutes after a meeting with Netanyahu and the prime ministers of the three other Visegrad countries — the Czech Republic’s Bohuslav Sobotka, Poland’s Beata Szydlo and Slovakia’s Robert Fico. During the closed-door meeting, parts of which were accidentally broadcast to reporters waiting outside, Netanyahu launched a bitter tirade against the EU’s “crazy” policy vis-a-vis Israel.

“I think Europe has to decide if it wants to live and thrive or if it wants to shrivel and disappear,” Netanyahu said, unaware that Israeli journalists were listening. “I am not very politically correct. I know that’s a shock to some of you. It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth — both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. Both of these concerns mandate a different policy towards Israel.”

The EU is the world’s only association of countries conditioning its relations with Israel on progress in the peace process with the Palestinians, Netanyahu lamented. “It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy.”

He referred to the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which has not been renewed since 2000. He urged the prime ministers who were present to work toward convincing Brussels to advance talks about renewing the agreement without reference to the Palestinians.

“If I can suggest that what comes out of this meeting is your ability, perhaps, to communicate to your colleagues in other parts of Europe: Help Europe… Don’t undermine the one Western country that defends European values and European interests and prevents another mass migration to Europe,” he said, minutes before his aides realized that reporters were listening.

The prime minister has often claimed that Israel is a bulwark preventing Europe from being flooded with refugees and migrants from Africa and the Middle East.

“So stop attacking Israel. Start supporting Israel,” he implored the four prime ministers. “Start supporting European economies by doing what the Americans, the Chinese and the Indians are doing,” he said, referring to increasing technological cooperation. Europe is “cutting itself off” from Israel, a major source of innovation, he protested.

“There is no logic here. Europe is undermining its security by undermining Israel. Europe is undermining its progress by undermining the connection with Israeli innovation because of a crazy attempt to create conditions,” he added.

In his public remarks, Netanyahu repeated his claims that Israel helps Europe face the rise of militant Islam and the “sparks of terror that it sends flying throughout the Middle East and sweeping into Europe, Africa” and elsewhere.

“Israel serves a unique function at being the one Western country in the region, the one country that is able to limit and fight from the region, within the region, this great danger to all of us,” Netanyahu said.

Calling it an “anomaly,” the prime minister then addressed Israel’s relations with the EU. “We are often criticized by Western Europe more than any other place in the world,” he said.

The Jewish state is the one democracy in the Middle East, a “beacon of tolerance” and a “bastion of European and Western values in the heart of a very, very dark area,” he said.

Even many Arab countries understand that Israel serves their interests, he added. “So it’s time to have a reassessment in Europe about their relations with Israel. We have much to offer each other. We have much to offer in the realm of security, much to offer in the realm of technology.”

At their meeting, Israel and the Visegrad Group decided to create a working group on fighting terrorism and to hold their next summit in Jerusalem.

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