The Hungarian Jewish community feels abandoned by Netanyahu’s Israel

Viktor Orbán did his best to make his meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Budapest a failure. First, quite unnecessarily he wove into one of his speeches a laudatory reference to Admiral Miklós Horthy, whose government played an active role in the Hungarian Holocaust. He called him “an exceptional statesman.” And then, two weeks before the arrival of the Israeli prime minister, he launched a vicious hate campaign against George Soros, which prompted anti-Semitic reactions in certain segments of Hungarian society.

Orbán apparently is in the habit of adding his own final touches to prepared speeches, and this superfluous and harmful addition about Horthy was one of these impromptu additions. The remark created an uproar at home as well as abroad, especially in Israel. Given the three-day visit by the Israeli prime minister to Budapest this week, one really wonders what was going on in the Hungarian prime minister’s head. Israel’s leading English-language paper, Haaretz, interpreted this remark “as part of an extremist nationalist and racist campaign [Orbán] is conducting ahead of elections in 2018.” Moreover, Orbán’s remarks “placed Israel in an embarrassing position” given Netanyahu’s impending meeting with Viktor Orbán and the Visegrád 4 countries in Budapest.

The Israeli government demanded an explanation. Four days after the delivery of the speech Yossi Armani, the Israeli ambassador, was instructed not only to issue a public statement but to make clear to the Hungarian government that Israel hoped for a statement from Viktor Orbán. He also warned that tension over the issue could hurt the summit between the two prime ministers. Eventually, a telephone call came from Péter Szijjártó, but, as Haaretz explains, he “did not clarify Orbán’s remarks, apologize or express regret for them, [but] the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, with an eye on the upcoming summit, decided to act with restraint and end the affair.”

Foreign Minister Péter Szjjártó in Jerusalem preparing Netanyahu’s visit to Budapest

Barely a week after this gaffe, the Orbán government embarked on a massive anti-Soros poster campaign which, if George Soros weren’t Jewish, would have been just fine with the Israeli prime minister, who dislikes Soros as much as Viktor Orbán does. But as András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz and spokesman for the Jewish religious community, pointed out, although the poster is “not openly anti-Semitic, nevertheless it is capable of inducing anti-Semitic sentiments.” He asked for the removal of the thousands of posters plastered all over the country. This call was then followed by the Israeli ambassador’s statement that “the campaign not only evokes sad memories but also shows hatred and fear.” But at this point Netanyahu, who is also the foreign minister of Israel, interfered. The foreign ministry issued the following statement: “Israel deplores any expression of anti-Semitism in any country and stands with Jewish communities everywhere in confronting this hatred. This was the sole purpose of the statement issued by Israel’s ambassador to Hungary,” he said. “In no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros.” The Hungarian Jewish community, which witnessed the anti-Semitic reactions to the poster campaign, was stunned and felt abandoned by the government of Israel.

András Heisler told the Associated Press today that “the Israeli foreign ministry’s clarification … in part surprised us and in part was hugely disappointing…. The Hungarian Jewish community felt that we were left in the lurch.” Most political observers are convinced that “Netanyahu’s visit provides [Orbán] a kind of acquittal regarding anti-Semitism and the stamp of being far-right.” Later in the day Heisler talked to Agnes Bohm of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency where he explained the Hungarian Jewish community’s position more fully. “It is most important for the Hungarian Jewish community that the Israeli prime minister condemns strongly any kind of hate campaign or hate speech during his visit to Hungary, and it is also very important that Netanyahu should stress the importance of the Diaspora, including the Hungarian Jewish Diaspora,” he said. Heisler also explained that “Soros’s name has a different meaning in Hungary and in Israel.” In Hungary “Soros is the symbol of the Jewish capitalist.” He added that “it was unacceptable for us that the Jews were afraid due to the hate campaign and to the hate speech. No leader of any Jewish community can tolerate when Jews fear the consequences of the hate campaign of the government.”

Mazsihisz is the representative of the Jewish religious communities, but secular Jews are just as unhappy about Netanyahu’s approach to what they consider to be a problem in Hungary and what the Israeli prime minister blithely ignores for political gains at home and abroad. According to Válasz, Mária M. Kovács, Péter Zentai, and Péter Bokor–a historian, a journalist, and an architect–delivered a 28-page document to Israeli Ambassador Yossi Armani containing letters to Netanyahu by 17 signatories. Among them are such well-known personalities as Ágnes Heller and György Konrád. At the same time Sándor Révész, a journalist and writer formerly of Népszabadság, wrote an opinion piece in HVG titled: “First? Worst!” It is a hard-hitting piece against the Israel Netanyahu has built. The message is that “to the Jewish state the Hungarian government is more important than the Hungarian Jews.” In Révész’s opinion, Netanyahu is a politician with whom few democratic politicians want to develop close relations. Orbán is one of the few who is not choosy. He is ready to be friends with the leaders of Russia, Egypt, and Turkey, or Netanyahu’s Israel. They are kindred souls. Such harsh criticism of Netanyahu’s regime cannot be heard too often in Hungary.

But Mairav Zonszein, a journalist and translator residing in Israel, feels very much the same way about this ugly episode. She wrote an opinion piece in today’s New York Times in which she expresses her admiration for George Soros who “has failed the litmus test that seems to count for Israel’s current leadership: unconditional support for the government, despite its policies of occupation, discrimination and disregard for civil and human rights. … Mr. Soros’s humanitarianism and universalism represent an expression of post-Holocaust Jewish identity that is anathema to the hard-line nationalism of Mr. Netanyahu’s governing coalition,” which necessarily leads to close relations with such autocratic states as Russia, Turkey, Egypt, and Hungary. She finds the Orbán-Netanyahu alliance unacceptable and immoral.

By contrast, the right-wing Hungarian media is outright ecstatic. Pro-government journalists look upon Netanyahu’s disregard of Mazsihisz’s worries about the anti-Semitic overtones of the anti-Soros campaign as an “official Israeli affirmation of the fact that neither Hungary nor the anti-Soros poster campaign is anti-Semitic.” For decades the Hungarian left has called “the political right Nazi and anti-Semitic.” But now, after the Israeli government’s statement, it is at last clear that this was a baseless accusation.

Benjamin Netanyahu arrived this evening in Budapest from Paris, where he attended a memorial gathering to mark the 75th anniversary of the infamous Vel’ d’Hiv Holocaust roundup. The post-war French government remained silent for a very long time about the fact that the French administration at the time was in charge of the roundup and deportation of about 13,000 Jews, including about 4,000 children, most of whom were killed. Although President Jacques Chirac acknowledged the country’s complicity in 1995, Emmanuel Macron used the occasion to reiterate his declaration that the French state bore responsibility for what happened in 1942 in Paris. I wonder whether Viktor Orbán will be ready to publicly declare the Hungarian government’s complicity in the death of over 500,000 Hungarian Jews. I wouldn’t wager too much money on it.

July 17, 2017
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Member
I cannot read the mind of Netanyahu, so I cannot even guess what is he thinking about the Soros billboards. Therefore I am just thinking out aloud and write it here; What can be a pragmatical view by the Israeli Government, represented by Netanyahu is, that among the population in Hungary, there are many loud, dominant, anti-Semitic, discriminating, chauvinistic people, who are full of hatred against other, non-Hungarian people. These people are the main supporters of the present regime, just as their ancestors, but not necessarily their relatives, were the supporters of Horthy and Szálasi. This regime, that the viktor is leading as the Maffia don, consist the largest number of the most corrupt criminals ever assembled in Hungary. They are morally corrupt to the bone also. Therefore, there is nothing will be gained leveling strong criticism agains them, it would just bounce off. Netanyahu went to see the V4 members and the viktor’s regime is just one of the V4. As we have seen in the past decades, the Israelis can sit down and meet with the representatives of the various terrorist organizations, the Palestinians, Egyptians, or the Turks, Russians, etc., and they don’t have to level strong criticism… Read more »
wrfree
Guest

Gyula I think you are on to something.

‘Vertrage bricht man um des Nutzens willen’
‘Contracts are broken for the sake of utility’… Machiavelli

VO and Benjamin…’pragmatists’ both. Look as getting up there as illiberal utilitarians. As a matter of fact seems the way of other countries in Europe. Certainly makes the job perhaps easier up at the top for those of the persuasion but for the minorities today well it could wind up a crap-shoot especially in having some sort of ‘comfortable security’ in their homelands.

It looks that perhaps Europe is at a stage where perhaps bits of mumbled rhetoric can change national atmospheres on a dime and give minorities pause to ask ‘are we really safe here?’. And it is all due to ‘pragmatic utility’ as they view life almost as being ‘beneath the wheel’.

Guest

Which just shows that it makes no difference if a state leader is a Jew, a Christian, Buddhist or a Muslim.

Psychologists have researched what draws people together, and the concclusion was that it is not common interests, as one would suppose, but shared hates, which are more inducive to group bonding.

So whatever race or creed, nasty autocrats such as Orbán, Erdogan, Putin and Netanyahu are naturally attracted to each other.

Member

It’s not just shared hates. There’s also empathy and compassion: the mammalian (and avian, and maybe sometimes piscine) traits, familial as well as social, that also underlie human decency (what we call “humaneness”). We are not all selfish, heartless, hateful deplorables.

But Orbán, Erdogan, Putin, Netanyahu and Trump (and their supporters and enablers) certainly are.
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Daniel
Guest

Very good summary, Eva. Very complex situation, very hard to summarize. Thank you. Bibi should have cancelled his trip. Doing it is a big mistake and a betrayal of the Jews in Hungary and elsewhere as well as the legitimization of the Orban regime. Big disappointment.

Ferenc
Guest

Wondering about O and N: if pro/anti-Semitism is not considered and instead pro/anti-Humanism is included as one of the criterions in a ‘I’m the furthest-right’ match between the two, who will be the winner?
I expect that match to be pretty tight [’a s(z)oros meccs’], most likely outcome a draw [döntetlen mérkőzés].

exTor
Guest

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Rats. Yesterday I saw that the antiSoros billboard near where I work out had been taken down. I had planned to reface it, but first I was going to take a bunch of ‘before’ pix. Later, under the stealth of the midnight, say around 3 AM, I would add some exTor enlightenment, as I had done last fall during the quota referendum [Népszavazás 2016]. The billboard sign had been removed, probably because its customary two-week run had finished, not because of the current FINA championships, for which it had been promised that the antisemitic antiSoros signs would be removed.

MAGYARKOZÓ

Member
It is interesting to see an increasing number of Western news outlets dropping “center-right” as their preferred label for the Fidesz government and opting for simply “right/wing.” But I am wondering whether it is really accurate to call Fidesz “right-wing” at all. Fidesz’s key leaders grew up in profoundly communist families. They studied in communist schools and cut their political teeth on KISZ. Many Orbanites, notably Pinter and Matolcsy, were full-fledged members of the MSZMP. It seems to me that the NER resembles the Kadar system more closely than anything we would call “right wing.” The key difference is, they have substituted “nemzeti” for “allami” and replaced the supremacy of the “vanguard party” with the supremacy of the (faux) “Christian nation.” These are merely superficial changes, especially in a nation as agnostic as Hungary. Right-wing governments are usually characterized by the presence of the military, which does not play a major role in Fidesz’s domestic rule. “Right wing” regimes, such as those of Pinochet and Franco, usually embrace a nationalistic free-market economy, rather than the state control over the economy that we see under Fidesz. Many of Orban’s regional buddies are dedicated lefties, e.g. Robert Fico and Aleksandar Vucic. If… Read more »
Member

So Alex,
as we know the ruling party of the young democrats is neither young nor democratic.
You pointed out, that Fidesz governing is socialistic and their attitude nationialistic. Also they want to become Hungarians a working people.

So it’s high time to change name.
What about
National Socialistic Workers Part of Hungary NSDAH ?

Member

Pardon, a Freud typo.
The correct abbreviation must be NSHWP and name
National Socialistic Hungarian Workers Party.
What’s it in Hungarian
Nemzeti Socialista Magyar Munka Part, NSZMMP.

wrfree
Guest
Re: the past of Kadar and the country today Just my observation on Alex’s ‘repackaging of values’. From what I saw back when, I distinctly felt and saw a cynicism with the whole setup. Everybody was sort of ‘shuffling’ along except perhaps a small minority who could game the system a bit and rise a little economically. But most were simply going through the motions of existence. It was as if it was a ‘deadsville’ permeated environment within the landscape. That was the price I guess for all the ‘gulyas’ flowing. But today I don’t believe there is such cynicism as in the Kadar years since those ‘Orbanic’ values seem to be picked up all in a great lock step. Fidesz apparently has done an outstanding job. There are many who simply follow the big ‘leader’… apparently joyfully and syncophantly. There is almost a liveliness in the steps of these Kadarians. They are eager to follow the call to battle and to fight fight fight. Compared to Orban’s system, the Kadarist one is a sort of sleepwalk. And its ironic that by getting ‘put to sleep’ they have invited the gang with insomnia into a comfy parlor where they keep… Read more »
Member

Love the sleepwalker metaphor.

exTor
Guest

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The NO bloc [Netanyahu/Orbán] got along like a house afire, as the ATV video of the signings showed a rightwing bromance, two guys (roughly the same age, the same height, the same build, similar haircuts) smilingly congratulating each other throughout each’s speeching. [For you, petőfi.]

Orbán reaffirmed Hungary’s steadfastness in protecting all its people, Jews included. I’m waiting for the English transcript of his speech. It sounded like Orbán owned up to some Hungarian remissness with respect to its Jews during World War Two, though I may have misunderstood. Could have been an Emmanuel Macron hangover.

It was clear, however, that Orbán was not going to allow any mixing [keverés] of Hungarian society. Read: no refugees. Too bad for Orbán Hitler that he cant refer to Hungary as the Christian state in the same way that Israel is referred to as the Jewish state [zsidó állam] popularly.

MAGYARKOZÓ

petofi
Guest

I’ll be damned if I could figure out the intent of your reference to me…

As for the bromance, best I can make of it is that Netanyahu is practicing some leveraging of the Yanks by allying himself with Putin’s Puppet.

exTor
Guest

Not a biggie, petőfi. I was just funning you because you seem to want to take exception to my perhaps-presumptuous (in your estimation) writing style. You no doubt feel (maybe not incorrectly) that I’m a little too full of myself, and (accordingly) must be deflated somewhat. After concocting my ‘speeching’ neologism –’speechifying’ being inappropriate here– I inserted my “for you” addendum figuring that my neologo would elicit a response.

MAGYARKOZÓ

petofi
Guest

If something I’ve written is a source of enjoyment for you, all the better. Keep on!

petofi
Guest

Or, perhaps, there must be something of the godfather’s dictum: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer..”

Observer
Guest

Re Ethnic purity.

A Hun joke goes: one Hungarian a conflict, two Hungarians – three political parties, three Hungarians – no such thing as one is a German, the second a gypsy and the third a Jew.

exTor
Guest

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwnPgscg0vU

Pretty pessimistic video by George Friedman, Budapest-born Texan. The video title: Is There a Global War Coming? He says yes. He also says that Hungary will be caught up in the next World War, that Hungary ended up on the wrong side in the previous World Wars. A bit of a downer.

http://brainbar.com

MAGYARKOZÓ

petofi
Guest

One is defined by certain important decisions in one’s life: when I took a look, and had a listen, to Netanyahu’s wife, I knew there was something wrong with the guy himself…

Observer
Guest

About low life Orbán we know he’d sell his mother for power/money, but I wouldn’t believe that US educated BN will sell the interests of the Hun Jews just for a photo op with another budding dictator.
Dirty politics par excellence.

Member

Orbán, Erdogan, Putyin and Netanyahu…..when fascist scumbags of a feather all flock together such trivialities as religion and volk ethnicity are forgotten about.

The neo-nazi untermenschen that make up the vast majority of the Fidesz voter-base must be mightily puzzled tonight.

What next? Mrs Orban appearing in a full-length burka when a Saudi royal visit hits town?

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