Furious demonstrators blocked the motorcade of visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban outside the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial Thursday, protesting his nationalistic policies and apparent embrace of a Holocaust-era Nazi collaborator.
Holding signs reading “Never again” in Hungarian and Hebrew and shouting, “Shame on you,” several dozen protesters stood around and in front of Orban’s car, keeping it from leaving the memorial grounds for several minutes.
The rare protest at the Jerusalem shrine for the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, a forested hilltop memorial and museum normally the site of hushed introspection, highlighted rampant anger at Orban’s policies and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s embrace of him.
Police quickly removed the protesters, some of whom also spoke out against Yad Vashem for hosting the Hungarian premier, who has been hounded by accusations of stifling Hungary’s democracy and stoking anti-Semitism, particularly for his campaign against Jewish philanthropist George Soros and support for rehabilitating the reputation of Miklos Horthy, who deported hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths.
Video of the protest was posted by Israel’s Army Radio
עשרות מפגינים חוסמים את שיירתו של ראש ממשלת הונגריה ויקטור אורבן ביציאה מיד ושם pic.twitter.com/Ciy7Dv9dZT
— גלצ (@GLZRadio) July 19, 2018
Orban had earlier laid a wreath and lit a candle in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, wearing a black hat in place of traditional skullcap.
He stayed silent for most of the ceremony, and signed his name and his wife’s name in the memorial’s guest book, but did not add any words, as visiting leaders often do.
Yad Vashem said in a statement that Orban’s tour “included details regarding the cooperation of Hungarian authorities with Nazi Germany under the leadership of Miklós Horthy and his successor.”
“During the visit, the importance of historical truth about the Holocaust was emphasized, as well as the manner in which it should be preserved and expressed in commemoration, education and remembrance,” the museum said in a statement after the visit.
“Furthermore, Yad Vashem expressed an expectation to the Prime Minister that those chosen to lead institutions and museums dealing with the Holocaust in Hungary should be committed to the presentation and dissemination of authoritative and conscientious historical research in this field,” it added.
The museum said its hosting of Orban was determined by Foreign Ministry directives, which requir foreign leaders and other visiting dignitaries to visit the memorial.
Orban’s trip has been marked by angry protests against the government for seeking closer ties with Budapest despite Orban’s praise for Horthy and his campaign against the Hungarian born Soros, which has been derided as being redolent of anti-Semitism.
A year ago, Orban hailed as an “exceptional statesman” Hungary’s wartime leader and Nazi ally, Horthy, who enacted anti-Jewish laws and under whose watch over half a million Jews were deported to Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Then, Orban launched and defended a poster campaign targeting the Hungarian-born Soros, accusing him of seeking to flood the country with refugees.
“We have to remember, when we say never again — neo-fascism and neo-fascist groups are a real danger to the very existence of the free world,” President Reuven Rivlin told Orban earlier in the day.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has pushed back against the accusations, pointing out Orban’s moves to quash anti-Semitism in the country and Budapest’s role in defending Israel within a mostly hostile European Union.
During a joint press conference Thursday morning, Netanyahu praised Budapest for its opposition to anti-Semitism, noting that Hungary had recently sponsored a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council that condemned the phenomenon and inaugurated a renovated synagogue in Subotica.
“You said it was ‘a moral duty that Jews live without fear and practice religion freely.’ You allocated 10 million forints [$35,000] for the renovation of synagogues,” Netanyahu said.
“I think that the task is always before us because anti-Semitism continuously rears its head but these actions point to a positive direction, which we encourage all our friends to continue throughout Europe, throughout the world.”
Orban replied by stressing that all Hungarian Jews can “openly and proudly celebrate their Jewish heritage and feel secure.”
Hungary is actively promoting Jewish life by renovating synagogues, repairing decrepit Jewish cemeteries and investing in Jewish education, he added.
Orban also said the “excellent” relations between Budapest and Jerusalem are due in large part due to the fact that “both countries have a patriotic leader.”
Orban arrived Wednesday evening for a two-day trip — the first-ever official visit of a Hungarian prime minister to Israel — that has drawn criticism from Israeli opposition politicians and Jewish groups.
The visit is a followup to Netanyahu’s trip to Budapest last year.
On Thursday evening, Orban was hosted for dinner by the prime minister and his wife, Sara Netanyahu, at their official residence in Jerusalem. On Friday, before returning to Hungary, he will visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City.
In a break with protocol for EU leaders who usually meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah during such visits, Orban has no scheduled talks with Palestinian leaders.
Tamar Pillegi and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.