Opposition lawmakers on Wednesday protested the visit of Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban, censuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his embrace of the controversial European statesman who once praised a former Nazi ally. Orban arrived in Israel early on Wednesday evening.
Under Netanyahu’s leadership, ties with Orban have warmed, prompting criticism from the local Jewish community over the Hungarian prime minister’s attacks on Jewish billionaire George Soros, which critics say toy with anti-Semitic stereotypes.
A year ago, Orban hailed as an “exceptional statesman” the country’s wartime leader and Nazi ally Miklos Horthy, who enacted anti-Jewish laws and under whose watch over half a million Jews were deported to Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Then, he launched and defended a poster campaign targeting the Hungarian-born Soros, accusing him of seeking to flood the country with refugees.
“After he desecrated the memories of Holocaust victims with his agreement with Poland, today Netanyahu will honor Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, who has praised the anti-Semitic leader who collaborated with the Nazis in the annihilation of Hungarian Jewry,” wrote Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Twitter. “Shame!”
Lapid was referring to a joint Polish-Israeli statement crafted last month that prompted Warsaw to amend its controversial Holocaust law. The text was criticized by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial earlier this month for its “highly problematic wording that contradicts existing and accepted historical knowledge in this field.”
Also Wednesday, Meretz party leader Tamar Zandberg tweeted in Hungarian: “Those who praise leaders who collaborated with the Nazis, who persecute human rights groups and the opposition in their country, are not welcome here.
Őket, akik dícsérik a nácikkal együttműködő vezetőket, antiszemitákkal szövetkeznek,üldözik az emberi jogi szervezeteket és az ellenzéket az országukban – nem akarjuk itt látni.
— תמר זנדברג (@tamarzandberg) July 18, 2018
“The blood of Hungarian Jewry is crying out from the ground,” chimed in Joint (Arab) List MK Dov Khenin in the Knesset.
Orban arrived in Israel for a two-day visit in the country, marking his first time in the Jewish state, in a followup to last year’s trip to Budapest by Netanyahu.
The trip is a striking sign of burgeoning ties between Netanyahu and the controversial Hungarian leader, who has been accused of playing up anti-Semitic stereotypes, and comes following reports of Israeli efforts to lobby the US to end isolation of the man considered a symbol of Europe’s move toward the hard right.
Orban, who is traveling to Israel with his foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, landed at Ben Gurion Airport Wednesday evening and immediately traveled to Jerusalem to meet at the Knesset with Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.
On Thursday, Orban will meet with Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem before beginning the official schedule of his trip, which will start with a meeting with Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office.
After the meeting with Netanyahu, which will include statements to the press, Orban will meet with President Reuven Rivlin and then, in the afternoon, tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance center.
On Thursday evening, Orban will be 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.
The trip comes a day after reports in the Israeli media that, under Netanyahu’s orders, Israel has lobbied the US administration to “open doors” to Orban’s government, which has traditionally been kept at arm’s length due to its ultra-nationalist stances and the prime minister’s embracing of what he has termed an “illiberal democracy.”
According to Channel 10, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and other Israeli officials have met with members of the Trump administration “on a number of occasions” to encourage establishing stronger ties with Hungary under Orban.
“The message we gave to everyone who was willing to listen was that the relations with Hungary are very important and that Israel would want to see US-Hungarian ties getting warmer,” an Israeli official was quoted as saying.
The official reportedly cited Orban’s campaign against Soros as a reason for why the US may be interested in closer ties.
Orban made strident opposition to immigration a central part of his government’s message, along with attacks on Soros, accusing him of seeking to flood the country with refugees and advancing legislation to curb the operation of organizations funded by Soros. Soros denies the accusations and Orban’s critics say the moves against NGOs are designed to restrict space for civil society in Hungary, an EU member state.
In light of both the anti-Soros campaign and Orban’s praise of Horthy, Israel’s ambassador to Budapest, Yossi Amrani, initially sided with Hungary’s Jews in criticizing Orban. But at Netanyahu’s behest, Israel later retracted its criticism and accepted the government’s clarifications.
Netanyahu was reportedly the first foreign leader to congratulate Orban on his reelection after a landslide victory in April, in which he led his Fidesz party to win 49.6 percent of the votes.
ראש ממשלת הונגריה ויקטור אורבן אירח הבוקר בלשכתו את היועץ לביטחוו לאומי ור' המלל מאיר בן שבת, העומד בראש משלחת ישראל במפגש מדינות וישיגראד.
השניים דנו בהידוק היחסים בין ישראל להונגריה וכן בנושאים אזוריים.
ראש ממשלת הונגריה יבקר בישראל במהלך החודש הבא pic.twitter.com/Yjt6C3QKVf
— ראש ממשלת ישראל (@IsraeliPM_heb) June 27, 2018
In that phone call, Netanyahu invited his Hungarian counterpart to visit Israel, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office at the time. The Israeli premier also thanked Orban for “Hungary’s support for Israel in international forums,” the statement said.
“You’ve done that time and again,” Netanyahu said. “We appreciate this stance, not only because it’s standing with Israel, but it’s also standing with the truth.”