Hungary to open office with ‘diplomatic status’ in Jerusalem
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Hungary to open office with ‘diplomatic status’ in Jerusalem

At meetings with three of four Visegrad Group members, Netanyahu refuses to talk about Poland’s decision to boycott summit

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

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, February 19, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, February 19, 2019. (Amos Ben Gershom)

Hungary will open a trade office in Jerusalem that will have official “diplomatic status,” the country’s prime minister announced Tuesday during a short visit to Israel.

“I just informed the prime minister that the Hungarian government decided that we will open up a trade representation here, which will have a diplomatic status, so we will appear now in Jerusalem officially as well,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban said, standing next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after the two leaders held a bilateral meeting in the capital’s King David Hotel.

“So I hope it will be a good step forward to even improve further the relationship between the Israeli people and Hungary,” he said speaking in English, as the planned translation from Hungarian into Hebrew failed.

Netanyahu thanked Orban for “deciding to extend the embassy of Hungary in Israel to Jerusalem, that is to have an extension in Jerusalem that deals with trade.”

“This is important,” the Israeli leader went on. “It’s a sign of our friendship. And it’s also a place in Jerusalem that can welcome you next time you come here.”

In an earlier meeting with Netanyahu, Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini also announced the opening of cultural and trade office in Jerusalem, though it was not immediately clear if it would have any diplomatic status.

But Orban and Pellegrini both stopped short of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Currently, only the US and Guatemala have their Israel embassies in Jerusalem.

Slovakia’s Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, left, speaks as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens after their meeting in Jerusalem, February 19, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Orban has been criticized for promoting anti-Semitic stereotypes in his country, including through his campaign against the Hungarian-born Jewish billionaire George Soros. He has also been chastised for his efforts to rehabilitate the reputation of Hungarian wartime leader Miklos Horthy, who deported hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths.

In his remarks Tuesday, he vowed support for Hungary’s Jewish community and spoke out against anti-Semitism in Europe. He also said that he wants to work toward outlawing European Union funding from supporting non-governmental organizations that interfere “in political issues, and [are] being anti-Israel.”

“We don’t accept that kind of behavior and that kind of practice. Until now, we have it, so we would like to stop it,” he said.

Netanyahu praised the Hungarian prime minister for his support. “You stand up for Israel and you stand up for the truth. It’s a very important alliance,” he said.

Orban came to Israel this week to attend a summit of the so-called Visegrad Group, or V4, a consortium of four Central European countries. Poland on Monday pulled out of the summit citing an ongoing diplomatic spat over the country’s role in the Holocaust and Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz saying that Poles “imbibe anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”

But Orban and the leaders of Slovakia and the Czech Republic still arrived in Jerusalem, holding brief individual bilateral meetings with Netanyahu, as well as one joint meeting.

At the beginning of his remarks, Orban briefly touched upon the subject, saying that the attempt to have a V4 summit in Israel was “almost successful.”

The meeting would have been the first time the group convened outside Europe.

“It was a first attempt, which is promising. I hope we will be able to complete that mission later on,” he said.

After he concluded his remarks, Orban was asked by a reporter if he is disappointed that Poland decided to cancel its participation, thus canceling the summit. “It’s always better with them than without them, of course,” he replied.

“We have a good friendship with Poland … and we have a good friendship with Israel, and when two friends having a discussion with each other, the only hope you can have is that they will talk directly with each other and improve the situation,” he went on. “That is my hope also.”

Czech PM Andrej Babis, who met Netanyahu earlier on Tuesday, made a similar comment in response to a Times of Israel question about Jerusalem’s spat with Warsaw.

“I am sure that Poland and Israel will continue cooperation and will solve this problem soon,” he said.

Netanyahu ignored reporters’ questions about the crisis with Poland, which seeks an Israeli apology for Katz’s remarks.

President of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman (2R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2L) attend the opening ceremony of the Czech House in Jerusalem, November 27, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Pellegrini, the Slovak leader, after his meeting with Netanyahu Tuesday announced the opening of a “new cultural, information and innovation center” in Jerusalem, which he said would open “very soon.”

“Because we also made the decision that Slovakia will have for the first time in our history only four diplomats responsible for innovation and one of these will be exactly in Jerusalem at this new center,” he said.

Netanyahu said he was “absolutely delighted” with the decision to open a new center in Jerusalem. “It is my hope that this will be the first step towards opening a Slovak embassy in Jerusalem.”

The Czech Republic in November ceremoniously opened the so-called Czech House in Jerusalem, which houses companies such as CzechInvest, CzechTrade, CzechTourism, Czech Center in a small office space in the capital’s Cinematheque.

As opposed to the planned Hungarian trade mission, the Czech House does not have any diplomatic status, officials insisted at the time.

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