Ex-PM hails 'fruitful cooperation' with reelected leader

In victory speech, Orban says he beat Soros, Zelensky; Netanyahu congratulates him

Right-wing Hungarian PM frequently accused of antisemitism singles out Jewish Ukrainian president and billionaire philanthropist as obstacles

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

Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, in a speech declaring victory in Sunday’s national elections, evoked antisemitic tropes and assailed philanthropist George Soros and Ukraine’s Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky

In the 10-minute speech to Fidesz party officials and supporters at an election night event in Budapest, Orban claimed a mandate for a fourth term and declared a “huge victory” for his party.

“We won a victory so big that you can see it from the moon, and you can certainly see it from Brussels,” said Orban, who has often been condemned by the European Union for overseeing democratic backsliding and alleged corruption.

While speaking to supporters, Orban appeared to make antisemitic assertions about Soros, the “international left” and Zelensky.

Orban singled out Zelensky as part of the “overwhelming force” that he said his party had struggled against in the election — “the left at home, the international left all around, the Brussels bureaucrats, the Soros empire with all its money, the international mainstream media, and in the end, even the Ukrainian president.”

Orban has faced multiple accusations of antisemitism and has also long targeted Holocaust survivor and left-wing philanthropist Soros, calling him a “public enemy” while falsely accusing him of backing uncontrolled mass immigration.

Jewish groups in the country condemned Orban’s anti-Soros campaign as antisemitic but despite widespread condemnations, it continued and in 2018 the Soros-founded Central European University was forced to relocate from Budapest.

This poster featuring US billionaire George Soros in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, reads, ‘We can’t let Soros get the last laugh.’ It was part of a government campaign, July 6, 2017. (Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images)

Zelensky had a day earlier depicted the Hungarian leader as out of touch with the rest of Europe, which has united to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin, support sanctions against Russia and send aid including weapons to Ukraine.

“He is virtually the only one in Europe to openly support Mr. Putin,” Zelensky said.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday congratulated Orban and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic after the two claimed victory in their countries’ respective elections.

“I’m sure the fruitful cooperation with Israel will continue under their leadership,” he said.

While serving as premier, Netanyahu developed close ties with Hungary; Orban said last year that it was a “challenge” for him having Netanyahu out of office.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban greets cheering supporters during an election night rally in Budapest, Hungary, April 3, 2022 (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett thanked Orban earlier this year for “Hungary’s steadfast support for Israel in international institutions,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and other top government officials have made fiery remarks about Orban, accusing the Hungarian leader of running an antisemitic election campaign.

Orban — a fierce critic of immigration, LGBTQ rights and “EU bureaucrats” — has garnered the admiration of right-wing nationalists across Europe and North America. He has taken many of Hungary’s democratic institutions under his control and depicted himself as a defender of European Christendom against Muslim migrants, progressives and the “LGBTQ lobby.”

The contest had been expected to be the closest since Orban took power in 2010, thanks to Hungary’s six main opposition parties putting aside their ideological differences to form a united front against his Fidesz-led coalition. Voters were electing lawmakers to the country’s 199-seat parliament.

Opposition parties and international observers have noted structural impediments to defeating Orban, highlighting pervasive pro-government bias in the public media, the domination of commercial news outlets by Orban allies and a heavily gerrymandered electoral map.

While Orban had earlier campaigned on divisive social and cultural issues, he dramatically shifted the tone of his campaign after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, and has portrayed the election since then as a choice between peace and stability or war and chaos.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shakes hands with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a joint news conference after their talks in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia on Sept. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

While the opposition called for Hungary to support its embattled neighbor and act in lockstep with its EU and NATO partners, Orban, a longtime ally of Putin, has insisted that Hungary remain neutral and maintain its close economic ties with Moscow, including continuing to import Russian gas and oil on favorable terms.

At his final campaign rally Friday, Orban claimed that supplying Ukraine with weapons — something that Hungary, alone among Ukraine’s EU neighbors, has refused to do — would make the country a military target, and that sanctioning Russian energy imports would cripple Hungary’s own economy.

“This isn’t our war, we have to stay out of it,” Orban said.

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