Yesh Atid: As PM, Lapid would demand Orban apology for ‘anti-Semitic campaign’

Party says leader would also insist Poland rescind ‘disgraceful Holocaust law’ absolving it of blame for WWII atrocities

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid leads his weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, June 4, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid leads his weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, June 4, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

If elected prime minister in April’s national election, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid would demand that the Hungarian premier apologize for an “anti-Semitic campaign” run by his government and that his Polish counterpart rescind a law absolving Poland of blame for the Holocaust, a party spokesperson told The Times of Israel on Monday.

Responding to an announcement that Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki, the Czech Republic’s Andrej Babis, Slovakia’s Peter Pellegrini, and Hungary’s Viktor Orban will all gather in Jerusalem next month for a meeting of the so-called Visegrad Group, Lapid called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel the summit over the controversial moves by two of the leaders.

Lapid said that Orban had “led an anti-Semitic campaign” targeting Jewish billionaire Geroge Soros and, referring to the controversial Polish law making it illegal to blame Nazi crimes on the country, that Morawiecki had “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, who also holds the position of foreign minister, has come under criticism for developing ties with Hungary and Poland, two countries whose leaderships have raised ire in Israel over their embrace of nationalistic policies and their attitudes to the Holocaust.

A poster with US billionaire George Soros in Szekesfehervar, Hungary, July 6, 2017. (ATTILA KISBENEDEK/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

Orban has faced accusations of using anti-Semitic tropes and imagery in his government’s virulent campaigns against Soros, including posters showing a large picture of the Hungarian-born Jewish emigre laughing, alongside the text: “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh,” a reference to government claims that Soros wants to force Hungary to allow in migrants.

Orban 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.

Netanyahu, however, has defended Orban as “a true friend of Israel,” who has done much to fight anti-Semitism and support Jewish life. The February summit will be the Hungarian premier’s second visit to Israel in a year.

Orban also met with Netanyahu in 2017 in Budapest and declared at the time “that the Government of Hungary, in a previous period, committed a mistake, even committed a sin, when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary.”

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

Poland caused anger last year in Israel and the Jewish world with legislative efforts seen as seeking to divorce itself from any state responsibility for the Holocaust.

In June, Netanyahu and Morawiecki ended a diplomatic standoff over the Polish law that made it a criminal offense to accuse the Polish nation of complicity in the extermination of Jews during World War II. The two leaders issued a joint statement that was criticized in Israel for appearing to accept Poland’s official position that it was not in any way responsible for the crimes of the Holocaust.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki places a candle at a memorial wall with names of some of the Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust, at the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Who Saved Jews during WWII, in Markowa, Poland, February 2, 2018. (AP/Alik Keplicz)

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.

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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