The Foreign Ministry on Sunday clarified that its call for the Hungarian government to end a billboard campaign against Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros was due to the perceived anti-Semitism and not because of criticism of the man himself.
Billboards posted nationwide in Hungary show a grinning Soros, who was born in the country, and the words “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh,” which Jewish leaders have said is provoking anti-Semitism.
The Budapest government objects to Soros’ call for Hungary to allow migrants to enter the country. Many of the billboards have been defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.
Israel’s ambassador to Hungary had called on Saturday for a halt to the government campaign against the Jewish-American billionaire.
But the Foreign Ministry issued a clarification Sunday, saying that Israel also objects to Soros’ activities. The clarification came on the orders of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.
“Israel deplores any expression of anti-Semitism in any country and stands with Jewish communities everywhere in confronting this hatred,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon in a statement. “This was the sole purpose of the statement issued by Israel’s ambassador to Hungary.
“In no way was the statement meant to de-legitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself,” Nahshon added.
In his Saturday statement, Yossi Amrani, Israel’s ambassador to Budapest, had said, “I call on those involved in the current billboard campaign and those responsible for it to reconsider the consequences. At the moment, beyond political criticism of a certain person, the campaign not only evokes sad memories, but also sows hatred and fear.”
“It’s our moral responsibility to raise a voice and call on the relevant authorities to exert their power and put an end to this cycle,” Amrani added.
Hungary’s foreign ministry responded at the time, saying, “Just like Israel, Hungary too takes steps against anyone who represents a risk to the national security of the country and its citizens.”
Hungarian Jews have called on Netanyahu to cancel an official visit to Hungary scheduled for July 18, to protest remarks by Prime Minister Viktor Orban in praise of Hungary’s anti-Semitic leader during World War II, Miklós Horth, as well as over the campaign against Soros.
Late last month, Orban included Horthy, a Hitler ally, among those he called “exceptional statesmen” in Hungary for leading the country, following the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Horthy signed anti-Jewish laws in 1938 and 1939, as well as in 1920.
Orban’s chief of staff, János Lazar, told journalists on Thursday, after Jewish leaders called for a halt to the billboard campaign: “The Hungarian government’s goal is to stop Soros’ migrant campaign, which is supporting the migration of illegal migrants into our country. The government is not criticizing George Soros for his Jewish origin, but for his support of the growing number of migrants entering in uncontrolled crowds into Europe.”
Lazar added that Hungarian Jews “should not be afraid because they can count on the Hungarian government, which always will defend them.”
Soros, who survived the Nazi occupation of Budapest and went on to become a self-made billionaire while living in the US, established the Open Society Foundations in 1979. According to its website, its mission is “to strengthen the rule of law; respect for human rights, minorities, and a diversity of opinions; democratically elected governments; and a civil society that helps keep government power in check.”
In 2016, hacked emails showed that the Open Society Foundations had as an objective “challenging Israel’s racist and anti-democratic policies” in international forums, in part by questioning Israel’s reputation as a democracy.
JTA contributed to this report.