Netanyahu to cut European trip short by a day
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Netanyahu to cut European trip short by a day

PM delays outgoing flight to late Saturday night; office does not explain change of plan, announced as he denied any role in escalating corruption probes

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boards a plane to go on an official state visit to Poland, on June 12, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boards a plane to go on an official state visit to Poland, on June 12, 2013. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash 90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to shorten his upcoming trip to Paris and Budapest, his office announced on Thursday.

Netanyahu was scheduled to take off for the French capital on Friday afternoon, ahead of the Jewish Sabbath — which lasts from Friday evening to Saturday night — with his office explaining that he needed to be at a Sunday morning event in France. The newly scheduled departure time will put him on an overnight flight to Paris that departs around midnight on Saturday night.

His office did not explain the sudden change of plan, which was announced as Netanyahu convened political allies to deny any involvement in a series of escalating corruption scandals.

On Sunday, Netanyahu is scheduled to participate in a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Vel d’Hiv roundup, a mass-arrest of over 13,000 French Jews in July 1942 that was part of the Nazi effort to eradicate France’s Jews.

Of those who were taken in the Vel d’Hiv sweeps, fewer than a hundred — and not one of the 4,000 children — survived.

A memorial to the Vel' d'Hiv Roundup, on Quai de Grenelle in Paris. (CC BY-SA Leonieke Aalders, Wikimedia commons)
A memorial to the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, on Quai de Grenelle in Paris. (CC BY-SA Leonieke Aalders, Wikimedia commons)

The 75-year-old episode caused controversy during the spring presidential campaign in France, when far-right candidate Marine Le Pen insisted France was “not responsible for the Vel d’Hiv.” France’s then-president Jacques Chirac recognized French responsibility for the deportations in July 1995.

Later in the day, Netanyahu will have his first meeting with new French President Emmanuel Macron.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a special congress gathering both houses of parliament (National Assembly and Senate) in the palace of Versailles, outside Paris, July 3, 2017. (AFP/POOL/Eric FEFERBERG)
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a special congress gathering both houses of parliament (National Assembly and Senate) in the palace of Versailles, outside Paris, July 3, 2017. (AFP/POOL/Eric FEFERBERG)

The prime minister is slated to fly to Hungary on Monday, marking the first visit to the country by an Israeli premier since the end of Communism. In Budapest, he will meet the leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

There had been calls for Netanyahu to cancel his Hungary trip after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban praised Miklos Horthy, the World War II-era leader who allied Hungary with Nazi Germany leading to the deportation and murder of half a million Jews.

Orban’s statements, made during a speech he gave on June 21 in which he described Horthy and other Hungarian leaders as “exceptional statesmen” for leading the country after the traumatic disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I, raised the ire of Israeli officials and Jewish groups.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reacts during a joint press conference with the Austrian Chancellor in Budapest, on July 26, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / PETER KOHALMI)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban reacts during a joint press conference with the Austrian Chancellor in Budapest, on July 26, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / PETER KOHALMI)

However, Netanyahu accepted the government’s clarification of the statements.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto spoke by phone with Israel’s ambassador to Hungary Yossi Amrani and then published a statement detailing the content of the conversation.

Szijjarto said he assured the Israeli envoy that the Hungarian government has “zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.” Concerning Horthy, the foreign minister said that he had “positive periods but also very negative periods.”

“We need to respect historical facts that clearly point to that,” Szijjarto said.

Referring to Horthy’s failure to protect the Jewish population during the war and his passing of anti-Semitic laws, the foreign minister said “all those are historical transgressions the seriousness of which can’t be diminished.”

In response, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the explanation was sufficient.

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