Israel to host 4 Central European leaders, including Hungary’s Orban

Visegrad Group’s February summit in Jerusalem marks first meeting of consortium outside of Europe

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

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

Israel is set to host the prime ministers of four Central European countries next month, including Hungary strongman Viktor Orban.

The four leaders — Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki, the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babis, Slovakia’s Peter Pellegrini, and Orban — will gather in Jerusalem on February 18-19 for a meeting of the so-called Visegrad Group.

The Jerusalem summit will be the first time the consortium, which was founded in 1991, convenes outside of Europe.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the upcoming meeting with Orban during a January 1 meeting in Brasilia. Powwowing with the Hungarian prime minister, Netanyahu expressed his appreciation for Budapest’s “strong support in international forums in Europe,” the PMO said at the time.

The first time Netanyahu offered to host a meeting of the Visegrad Group, also known as V4, was in July 2017 in Budapest. At the time, Netanyahu was overheard complaining to the Central European leaders about the European Union’s “crazy” policies vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unaware that his remarks were being transmitted to reporters outside, the prime minister slammed Brussels for its treatment of Israel, calling on the V4 to use their influence in the organization to ease conditions for advancing Israel’s ties with the EU.

Next month’s summit in Jerusalem will likely also focus on ways the four countries can help fight what Netanyahu considers the union’s unfair policies toward Israel.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on July 20, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

The arrival of Orban — his second visit to Israel in half a year — is likely to raise some controversy, as he 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.

Responding to the announcement, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid called on Netanyahu to cancel the summit, saying Orban “led an anti-Semitic campaign” and, referring to the controversial Polish law imposing penalties for blaming Nazi crimes on the country, that Morawiecki “passed a law desecrating the memory of Holocaust victims.”

Asked whether Lapid, if elected prime minister in the upcoming April elections, would refuse to meet the two premiers, a spokesperson for the party said he “would demand an apology from Prime Minister Orban and that Poland rescind the disgraceful Holocaust law. That is what any prime minister who cares about Jewish history and has any sense of national pride would do.”

Netanyahu has defended Orban as “a true friend of Israel” who has done much to fight anti-Semitism and support Jewish life.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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