Category Archives: Hungary

George Soros in his own words

A few days ago I discovered a documentary about George Soros from 1994, with Pál Bodor (1930-2017), the Transylvanian Hungarian poet and writer, as narrator. I was impressed with the George Soros who emerges from these interviews, and I asked Richard Field of The Budapest Beacon whether he would be willing to subtitle the video in English.  He kindly agreed, and here is the first half of the documentary. Thank you, Richard, I really appreciate it.

I will be interested in your reactions.

Are George Soros and Pope Francis part of a global conspiracy? Ask Zsolt Bayer

A few months ago Zsolt Bayer, the foul-mouthed journalist who was one of the founding members of Fidesz, publicly announced his intention to watch his language and to remain within the bounds of acceptable journalism. Well, it didn’t take long before he was back in his usual form. His latest is an incredible attack on Pope Francis, which went so far that even the editor of Magyar Kurír, the official newspaper of the Conference of Hungarian Bishops, wrote an editorial about it, which is a sharp turn from the Church’s past practice of ignoring Bayer.

The independent Hungarian media has the bad habit of forcefully reacting to every objectionable word Bayer writes or utters. Critical journalists and politicians on such occasions announce that “we thought that one cannot sink lower,” after which they sadly note that “one obviously can.” It seems that even journalists’ memories are short because there is absolutely nothing new in Bayer’s preoccupation with and denigration of Pope Francis. He has been preoccupied with the pope for at least two years.

Before we condemn, as we should, Bayer for his intemperate attack on the pope, we must keep in mind that the leaders of the Hungarian Catholic Church share some of Bayer’s views. Of course, they don’t call the pope “an ass” because he calls on European Christians to support the refugees, but they share Bayer’s belief that Francis, by virtue of coming from Argentina, is unfit to handle the European crisis and that he is naïve in the extreme. Some of the more outspoken right-wing bishops like Gyula Márfi, archbishop of Veszprém, and László Kiss-Rigó, bishop of Szeged-Csanád, spoke quite openly about the pope’s ignorance of European reality.

The first example of Bayer’s writings on Pope Francis is from June 2015, in which we already find the kernels of his fully developed opinion on the pope–that his ideas were shaped by the fact that he was the son of “migrants,” his family was poor, and he is from “far-away Argentina.” Europeans wait in vain for Pope Francis to come to their rescue in these hard times; he ignores them and moves on to “the army of ferocious, screaming, murderous strangers.”

A couple of months later he went further and called Francis “either a senile old fool who is totally unsuitable to be the pope or a scoundrel.” When the leader of the Christian Democratic Party’s parliamentary delegation was asked to comment on Bayer’s description of Pope Francis as “a senile old fool,” he pretty much stood by Bayer, pointing out that the pope’s solidarity with the downtrodden is stronger than his feeling of responsibility for the safety of Europeans. Zoltán Balog in an interview brushed aside Bayer’s choice of words by saying that after all Zsolt Bayer is a Lutheran, and “one should read what Martin Luther had to say about the pope. In comparison [Bayer’s] words are outright tame.”

A few months later, at the end of 2015, he wrote his most comprehensive assessment of Francis and his unfitness for his job. It is not enough that he favors the migrants because his own family were immigrants and that he doesn’t understand Europe because he came from another continent. He is also an enemy of nations and thus must be a foe of Orbán’s Hungary. How do we know that? Francis abolished the papal “tradition” of incanting Easter and Christmas greetings in 60-odd languages after delivering the Urbi et Orbi Message. Bayer describes the moving scenes of people raising their national flags on St. Peter’s Square after they heard the greeting in their own language. This pope is like the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, who turned his countries upside-down because of his mad, zealous reforms. As a result, he almost ruined his empire. “Today’s pope is not a believer in the ancient traditions of the Catholic Church.” He is moving away from what he considers to be antiquated and old-fashioned and is establishing new traditions alien to the Catholic Church. But he should have noticed that the reformation of the church is normally demanded by non-Catholics. By removing the multilingual greetings, the pope “removed the nation, the homeland, and the national language from the stage of the world.” In fact, “Francis is working on the creation of a United States of Europe instead of a Europe of nations.” Indeed, George Soros, Pope Francis, and Ferenc Gyurcsány, the only Hungarian politician who dares to suggest such a heresy, are comrades-in-arms.

This is an imaginative theory that has little to do with reality. There are at least two problems with Bayer’s argument. The first is that this “ancient” tradition is only 50 years old. Pope Paul VI introduced it in 1965 when the decision was made to conduct mass in the local tongue instead of Latin. The second problem is that if Pope Francis is such a universalist, why did he decide only recently to abandon Latin as the official language of the synod of bishops? Yes, from here on the language of the synod will be Italian, the lingua franca of the Vatican. That doesn’t mesh with Bayer’s ideas on Francis’s alleged hatred of nation states and national cultures.

And now comes the latest upheaval over Bayer and Pope Francis. This time it was an interview with Bayer at a local television station in the town of Miskolc that caused the Hungarian non-governmental media outlets to raise their voices against the extremist Fidesz journalist. During the interview he repeated his earlier objections. The pope has a non-European past, when it would be of the utmost importance to have a European pope who represents “European interests.” In his opinion, the pope is no different from the politicians of the European Union because he goes against the will and goals of European citizens. “Do not imagine that what [the pope] says is divine revelation. It is only stupid, moronic political opinion,” Bayer said.

It looks as if Bayer’s notions about the pope have evolved over time because by now he is convinced that “it is no accident that a non-European man became the pope.” I guess it was part of an international conspiracy. Knowing something about how these guys’ minds work, I can easily conjure up a scenario by which George Soros and other Jewish financiers with business designs on a Europe with a mixed population conspire with the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church to pick a man who would serve their interests. One could call this, as does Christopher Adam of Hungarian Free Press, typical double talk, but since Bayer a couple of days after the interview insisted that he had listened again to the interview and would not take a word back from it, I think he actually believes this foolish idea which, let’s face it, is not very far from the thinking of the top Fidesz leadership, including that of Viktor Orbán. I would like to remind everyone that Orbán, especially during 2015, kept repeating that the move of so many refugees at once “cannot be a coincidence.” And if it is not a coincidence, then it is the result of design. But design on the part of whom?

I guess by now it is clear to readers that I see no serious differences between the thinking of the mainstream Fidesz and Catholic leaderships and the ideas of Zsolt Bayer, expressed in crude prose. The message is more or less the same. I suspect that the reason for Viktor Orbán’s lenient attitude toward Bayer’s “artistic endeavors” is his satisfaction with his old friend’s way of expressing his and his government’s position in down-to-earth, direct language that can reach audiences on the far right. Two years ago I reported on a far-right journalist who claimed that Pope Francis is not a bad man, just not a European and not a Catholic. He is not only manipulated by Jews but is a Jew himself, a son of Jewish refugees from Italy. It is these people Bayer is supposed to reach, most likely with Orbán’s blessing.

Admittedly, this kind of talk comes only from what I call the lunatic fringe, but even Magyar Idők and subsequently Válasz in August 2016 reported the discovery that in countries with a sizable Catholic population George Soros targets the Catholic church with the goal of influencing public opinion on issues he cares about.  He spent a great deal of money, for instance, to convince Catholic priests in the United States to emphasize issues that would help the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. When the right-wing internet site Flag Polgári Magazin republished the article, its title was changed to “Shocking! A leaked e-mail reveals why Pope Francis supports migration at any cost.”

Linking George Soros and Pope Francis is perhaps the quintessential conspiracy theory. Zsolt Bayer is helping the far right develop its conspiratorial imagination.

July 24, 2017

Another grain of sand on the pile: The e-ticket fiasco

There is a Hungarian word “nagypolitika” (literally “large politics”) that is used when talking about a piece of news or an event that has national or international significance. Today’s topic is anything but “nagypolitika.” On the contrary, on the surface at least, it seems like an insignificant affair that luckily hasn’t caused major problems, only annoyance. Yet, judging from the public’s reaction to the faulty software of the newly introduced e-tickets of the Budapest Transit Center (Budapest Közlekedési Központ/BKK), the case has become the focal point of all the frustration Hungarians are experiencing over the incompetence and the arrogance of the Orbán regime in general.

Itcafé, an internet site serving those interested in information technology, claims that the present public mood can be compared only to the impromptu mass demonstrations against the government’s plans to introduce a heavy tax on internet use during the fall of 2015. Just like then, thousands are planning to march in defense of the 18-year-old boy who discovered the software glitch in the first place. Our young hero handled the situation pretty much the way most white hat hackers would have. After he discovered that by changing something in the “POST request” he could set his own price for a ticket, he purchased a monthly ticket for 50 forints (20 cents) instead of 10,000 ($38.00). He then fired off an e-mail to BKK pointing out the security risk, assuring them that his intentions were good. He also perhaps foolishly announced that at the age of 13 he wouldn’t have made such a gross error as the one he found in the brand new e-ticket software. The software company responsible for this shoddy piece of work was I T Systems Magyarország, an affiliate of the German I T Systems Group.

I T Systems Magyarország reported the hacking “crime,” and the police appeared at the boy’s house some 300 km from Budapest and arrested him. The very fact of the arrest upset the internet crowd, but the fact that the arrest took place at 7 a.m. really infuriated them. Media critics of the government interpreted the timing as intimidation, especially since this was not the first time that the Hungarian police have visited people for some minor offenses as, for example, not appearing in court as a witness, in the early hours. Soon enough everybody began calling our hero “the ethical hacker,” although, as I T System countered, “an ethical hacker” is someone who is hired by the company to catch glitches of the kind Szilárd found. The fact is, of course, that no one had found the glitch before our hacker reported it. I T Systems claimed that they had no choice but to move against the boy, regardless of his intentions.

Soon enough other security problems came to light, one of which at least was quite serious. Index warned those who had already signed up on BKK’s website for an e-ticket to change their passwords immediately because hackers can get to their passwords and their e-mail addresses. At a joint press conference given by BKK and I T Systems, the journalists gained the impression that the companies were blaming the customers instead of admitting that there is something wrong with the whole system. As days went by, anger grew. First, BKK’s Facebook page was bombarded with less than polite comments about what people thought of BKK and the decision to bring charges against the boy. On one afternoon 35,000 comments appeared on the site. Two days ago BKK’s website stopped functioning, and it is still unreachable. It is hard to tell whether it became the victim of not so ethical hackers or was just overloaded with users who wanted to vent their frustration. The two companies remained silent until late Friday night when they released a terse statement about the illegal hacking of their system, adding that they were sorry that the accused is a young student whose intentions were well-meaning, but otherwise they expressed no remorse. People demanded an apology.

BKK released statements about all the improvements they are working on, which only revealed the ignorance of the company about the technical aspects of the software the company purchased. The CEO of BKK kept talking about installing a “stronger firewall” as a solution, which of course is nonsense given the problems of the software. At last on Saturday the two companies “issued a half-hearted apology,” as 24.hu put it. Most likely Mayor István Tarlós put pressure on Kálmán Dabóczi, CEO of BKK, to make a statement. A day earlier Tarlós had disclaimed any responsibility for the situation created by the joint incompetence of BKK and I T Systems. Tarlós also promised an investigation of the whole debacle. The CEO of I T Systems by the end was also forced to engage the “ethical hacker” in professional dialogue, which almost sounded like a job offer.

All’s well that ends well, one could say. The boy was a bit shaken by the few hours he had to spend in jail; the software will be fixed; and the two CEOs have been humbled. It is possible that the head of BKK will lose his job as opposition parties demand. Why then the demonstration? The answer, I think, is simple. This public outburst is not just against the shabby treatment of the “ethical hacker.” It is against the whole system which is riddled with incompetence and graft. Vasárnapi Hírek pointed out that the Budapest Transit Authority has been promising an e-ticket system for ten solid years. According to them, this useless software cost 250 million forints. However, according to another source, “BKK received a 550 million forint subsidy” for a project that “is not worth more than 1 or 2 million.” Where did the money go, asks Z. V. in a letter to the editor. Actually, I’m afraid these figures greatly underestimate the real cost of the e-ticket project. I found an item on BKK’s official website—which unfortunately I can’t access at the moment, and which may no longer be there when the website comes back online—from 2012, according to which the city council voted to launch the e-ticket service and for that purpose the City of Budapest gave 6 billion forints to BKK. Six billion. Five years ago, and that’s what came of it.

Finally, here is an interpretation of this BKK affair that I wish were mine. The Hungarian “Szilárd” reminded Szabolcs Bogdán, a writer, of Mathias Rust, the 17-year-old West German youngster who in 1987 landed his plane on Red Square, escaping recognition by the Soviet Air Force. The self-confident Soviet leaders with seemingly limitless powers ruled the empire, but then came this small plane from West Germany. Heads rolled in the Soviet Air Force and the bigwigs thought all was well, merely a fleeting embarrassment. It turned out, however, that the weakness of the whole political system was laid bare by this plane’s landing. The regime was not omnipotent.

I don’t think the comparison is far-fetched. I don’t know how long it will take, but Orbán’s seeming self-confidence is unwarranted. Political life in Hungary right now is like the pile of sand made famous by the Danish physicist Per Bak: once the pile reaches the critical point, adding another grain of sand to it may cause an avalanche. There are times when one small thing can inexorably change the course of history.

July 23, 2017

Viktor Orbán, the leading statesman of Europe

I’m not sure whether it is worth devoting a whole post to the latest Orbán speech at the Tusnádfűrdő/Băile Tușnad gathering of Fidesz leaders, especially after I waded through the dreadfully boring text. A reporter from one of the Hungarian internet sites asked some people in the audience after it was all over what particular sentence or idea they thought was most memorable. The less imaginative ones just stood there mum, while a clever middle-aged lady in a state of rapture announced that “every word the prime minister uttered” was equally unforgettable. How clever.

The most “exciting” moment of the event was a sight to behold. Muscled-up Szekler “gentlemen” began roughing up a woman who foolishly braved the crowd alone to protest the building of the Paks II Nuclear Power Plant. One of her attackers dragged her to the ground by her hair. Judging from what we can see on the video, the incident could have ended very badly.

I don’t know how other people will judge this speech, how others will interpret the speaker’s state of mind, but my overarching impression is that Viktor Orbán is afraid. This judgment might surprise some people, especially since most people, just like Péter Magyari of 444.hu, would undoubtedly find the speech little more than an attempt to explain “why he is the most important person in the world today.” It was precisely this extended and continuous self-aggrandizing that made me suspicious that the Hungarian prime minister is not as self-assured as he would have us believe.

Let’s start with “the strengthening of the Visegrád 4 countries,” which he considers to be the most momentous event for Europe in the last 12 months. Admittedly, there was the U.S. presidential election and the French presidential and parliamentary elections, which “swept away the whole French party system,” but they fade in comparison to the reality that “the cooperation of the Visegrád 4 has become closer than ever before.” Of course, he takes credit for this feat. But even a superficial perusal of the international media tells a different story. The coming reform of the European Union will most likely force these four countries to make choices that may vary according to their perceived national interests. Orbán’s claim that “Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest speak the same language” might have been true regarding their position on the refugee issue, but it is most likely a very temporary phenomenon. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with the Visegrád 4 may have served Israeli interests, but it had no appreciable effect on the cohesion of the alliance.

From his alleged diplomatic success he moved on to his incredible foresight in recognizing ahead of everybody else that the days of global, supranational elites are over and that the future will be in the hands of “patriotic national leaders.” Here, I believe, he is thinking of the U.S. presidential election, because the description fits only the political system Donald Trump is trying to create, for the time being without much success. In Europe, most likely to the chagrin of Orbán, those extreme right-wing leaders whom Orbán calls “patriotic political leaders” have not yet emerged–with the exception of Poland, and let’s hope that the European Union will muster its courage and ensure that the Polish “disease” does not spread across Europe.

It is a well-known fact that Orbán, who spent his first 14 years in a small village, is no friend of Budapest, where he never felt quite at home. Yet now he decided to brag about the country’s capital as the only city between Vienna and Istanbul that is a metropolis. As he put it, “our capital is capable of serving more than the Hungarian state.”

Naturally, a good portion of the speech was devoted to the refugee crisis and the dire situation that awaits Europe, which will inevitably be Islamized. He repeated his usual arguments, especially about the alliance of George Soros and the Brussels bureaucrats. The only noteworthy passage from this section of the speech was Orbán’s claim that his determined anti-migrant policies saved Europe “from the migrant invasion.” Therefore, “next year’s Hungarian election will be a special one because all of Europe will have a stake in it.” If he loses the election, his political opponents will take down the fence he built and will allow immigrants into the country. Thus, “they are ready to hand over the Europeans of today to a new future continent with a mixed population.” There are forces in Europe that want to see a change of government in Hungary because they want to weaken the Visegrád 4 alliance and, with it, the whole of Central Europe.

From this rant I think we can hypothesize that Orbán is actually worried about the outcome of the election, however crazy this sounds given the utter disarray in which the opposition finds itself at the moment. The incredible effort Orbán has expending lately urging all Romanian-Hungarians to vote is telling. At the last national election 97% of Romanian-Hungarians voted for Fidesz. So virtually all votes coming from there will be cast for Orbán’s party. Fidesz has managed to get close to a million people to register and the campaign is still under way. Second, the reference to certain political forces that want to weaken the Visegrád 4 alliance is also a telling sign of his worries about the stability of the group.

So, what kind of a picture emerges from all this? He is a politician who wants to portray himself as the leading statesman of Europe. In addition, he, and not Donald Trump, was the harbinger of the “patriotic leader” whose main concern is national interest. He was the man who saved Europe from a migrant invasion. Budapest is destined for greater things than being the capital of Hungary. And finally, his rule over the country is so important that all Europeans must keep fingers crossed for his political survival because otherwise Europe as we know it will be lost. It’s no wonder that the opposition claims that Orbán has lost his sense of reality. Yet, all that brings to mind the saying about the man who whistles in the dark although, in fact, he is fearful of the world around him.

July 22, 2017

Viktor Orbán and the Chabad kosher business

Two days ago, before I had access to the English translation of András Heisler’s speech, I called attention to a sentence I considered to be significant. He talked about forces that are trying to sow discord in the Hungarian Jewish community. The sentence I was alluding to was: “We are convinced that it is in the basic interest of both Hungary and the State of Israel not to divide the Hungarian Jewry of the Diaspora, not to alienate it but to help build our communities in order to continue living and to pass on our ancestors’ Hungarian and Jewish traditions.” In that post I briefly mentioned the cozy relationship between the Hungarian government and Slomó Köves, the founder of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH).

First, before I delve more deeply into this relationship, a bit of history. Following the 1867 Compromise between the Crown and Hungary, the new Hungarian government worked with liberal-minded Jewish leaders to create a formal institutional framework in order to facilitate church-state relations. A congress was convened for that purpose. The 200 some delegates were supposed to exclude religious issues and concentrate only on organizational matters. After three months of deliberations, instead of creating a single unified Jewish congregation the community officially split into three branches: the Neolog (liberal), the Orthodox, and the Status Quo Ante, those traditionalists who wanted to remain independent from both groups. Within Orthodoxy some groups followed the Hasidic tradition, but after the Treaty of Trianon most of them ended up in Czechoslovakia or Romania. Slomó Köves’s Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation, allied with the Chabad movement, is an import from the United States.

Chabad is widespread, consisting of more than 3,600 institutions in over 1,000 cities, spanning more than 80 countries. The group actively seeks new adherents among unaffiliated Jews. Chabad was well prepared for the political changes in East-Central Europe, and in August 1989 a young couple, Baruch Oberlander and his wife Batsheva, were sent to Hungary in search of new converts. Both are children of Hungarian Holocaust survivors. I have no space here to go into the activities of Oberlander in Hungary, but one can safely say that he and his fellow religionists have been extremely active, with considerable help from the Orbán government.

Slomó Köves, who has been described by some as the head of the “political section” of the movement, is a convert himself. He was born Máté Köves, the child of a secular Jewish couple. Being interested in spiritual and religious matters, he got to know Rabbi Baruch Oberlander, who convinced him to drop out of the famed Radnóti Gymnasium and continue his education in Israel and later in the United States in yeshivas. He married an American girl, also from the Hasidic community, and the couple returned to Hungary. Oberlander, Köves, and several other Chabad rabbis have created a strong community with considerable influence. For example, in 2003, when the chief rabbi of Israel, the leader of the Chabad Rabbinic Council of Israel, and Baruch Oberlander ordained Köves, the ceremony was attended by President Ferenc Mádl, a Fidesz appointee; Gábor Demszky, mayor of Budapest; and several leaders of Mazsihisz. The event was heralded as the first Orthodox ordination since the Holocaust, which turned out to be inaccurate.

After 2010 the relationship between the Chabad group and the Hungarian government strengthened. In 2012 Köves was named chief rabbi of the Hungarian Army. The close relationship between Orbán and Köves was amply demonstrated during the recent Netanyahu visit to Budapest. “The prime minister gave an intimate dinner party for the members of the Israeli delegation on Tuesday where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his wife, Anikó Lévai, introduced Rabbi Slomó Köves to the Netanyahu couple. Sara Netanyahu was happy to learn about the significant work being done by Chabad in Hungary. She let him know that as a school psychologist she works in a Chabad school.” So, Köves was invited to a dinner to meet Netanyahu while no such invitation was extended to the president of Mazsihisz.

The Chabad community, partly because of the generous support of the government and partly because of the financial resources of Chabad Lubavitch, is thriving. As of now, ten rabbis are active in Hungary. As far as I can ascertain, they are all “imports.”

It looks as if Slomó Köves’s Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH) and the Hungarian government also have joint business interests. At the beginning of July the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, David Lau, was visiting Hungary. He came to witness the publication of a new Hungarian translation of the Talmud, a Chabad project, but he also attended the opening of Europe’s largest kosher slaughterhouse for geese. Both the slaughterhouse and the Quality Poultry Kft, the firm running it, are owned by EMIH. The keynote speaker was Sándor Fazekas, minister of agriculture. This immediately aroused my suspicion that the Hungarian government was involved one way or another in this business venture. And indeed this is the case. According to the local paper, the project is ambitious. The present structure will employ about 100 people, but there are plans to expand its capacity and eventually will employ 260 people. Daily 2,400 geese will be processed there. In his speech Fazekas emphasized that foodstuff made from water birds has a centuries-old tradition in Hungary. It is a “Hungaricum.” He added that the goals of Quality Poultry are “in line with the government’s agricultural policy.” Therefore, the Magyar Export-Import Bank (Eximbank) gave a 1.75 billion forint loan for the construction of the slaughterhouse. There was also a government subsidy, the size of which was not disclosed. Later, when the company’s slaughterhouse is enlarged, the government will cover 15% of the cost.

At the opening of the kosher slaughterhouse. From left to right: Baruch Oberlander, David Lau, Sándor Fazekas, and Slomó Köves

It looks as if the Chabad people convinced the Orbán government that kosher slaughtering and processing is a good business. I’m sure they are right. Goose liver is exceedingly expensive. Kosher goose liver even more so. According to an article from 2013, “Hungary is one of the main sources of goose liver to Israel” right now.

The Hungarian government got so excited about kosher food in general that “an international logistical center” is being created by two state companies. Kosher products would arrive in Hungary from all over the world and from there they would be shipped to the USA, Europe, and Israel. Agro Rehab Kft., one of the companies, is planning to grow kosher broccoli and cauliflower. (In case you’re wondering, vegetables are considered to be kosher except for these two, because bugs might be hiding in them.) The government considers this investment to be of particular importance to the national economy, and therefore Agro Rehab received 3 billion forints from the government for the expansion of its business activities.

Mainstream Jewish groups and secular Jews are not this government’s favorites. By and large, they are not supporters of the Orbán regime, as Viktor Orbán knows only too well. On the other hand, this small group of fundamentalists is politically harmless, in addition to being potentially good business partners. Altogether a good deal.

July 21, 2017

András Heisler’s speech in the presence of Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Orbán

Your Excellencies, Lord Mayor of Budapest, Chief Rabbi of Hungary, Rabbis, Honored Guests!

Today may be the first time in the history of the Hungarian Jewry that our community can host two prime ministers at the same time. We can say it is a Historic Event. And this historic event takes place at a historic site, here, in Goldmark Hall. Due to the Jewish laws of the Horthy era Goldmark Hall was the one and only place where Jewish actors were allowed to perform between 1939 and 1944.

In my welcoming speech, I will talk about the strongest bridge between two geographically distant countries, the connecting role of the Hungarian Jewry. Our past and our future connect us, as our love of Hungary and of Israel connects us. We have our history represented in this room today: here sit among us well respected members of our community who were victims of the indescribable boundless, murderous hatred. They will listen with us to the words of the prime ministers of Hungary and of the Jewish State.

Mr. Prime Ministers, my 92-year-old mother, who came back from Auschwitz, is sitting right behind you. And here is the future generation also, those who regularly visit Israel and who work or study there at the universities. They are the ones who will further develop the connection between the two countries. Our survivors and our youth are our bridges between times and lands.

Hungary, the birthplace of Herzl, is Israel’s reliable partner. Hungary was the first in Europe to stand up against the boycott aimed at endangering Israel’s economic development by refusing to label products arriving from the disputed territories. The Hungarian government–complying with our request–made it clear that fundamental practices of our religion, like the right to perform circumcision and kosher slaughtering, are part of our “freedom of religion” while some countries of the European Union are questioning these practices. Our co-operation in the field of education is also successful. And based on the meetings yesterday, cultural and economic cooperation are perfect as well. And at our last meeting of the “Jewish Community Roundtable” I asked that Hungary recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the city that all three monotheistic religions make their home. We hope…

From left to right: Viktor Orbán, Benjamin Netanyahu, and András Heisler. In the background: Anikó Lévai, Orbán’s wife

The largest Jewish community of Central Europe has always helped and will always nurture the friendship between Hungary and Israel. Hungarian-Israeli relations are indeed good, although there are some disturbing phenomena which I would like to address honestly. Hungarian governments have been ambiguous about the role Hungary played in the Holocaust, and the responsibility of the government and governor of the time. Seventy-two years after World War II the restitution of the Jews has still not been fully completed. While the healing of the legal injuries of the churches remains unsolved, that would help restore the independence of the churches.

It has been possible to launch a total propaganda campaign in Hungary whose language and visual tools revived in our minds the bad memories of the past. One can argue about the intent of the campaign, but one thing became unacceptable to me: the Jews of Hungary began to live in fear. And a responsible Jewish leader cannot keep silent about that. Neither can a responsible head of government. We are pleased to know that the Hungarian government wants to protect us as Hungarian citizens, but the most effective defense we see is a Hungarian society without hatred. I ask the Prime Minister of Hungary to help Hungary become a society where the real power is the mutual respect of each other’s values.

Honorable Prime Ministers! Dear Guests! We want to be proud Hungarian Jews in a country where the tag ‘stinking Jew’ cannot appear on anyone’s image. The majority of Hungarian Jews want to continue to live here, here in the embrace of the Carpathians, but without fear! Our history, our culture, our most beloved Hungarian language binds us here.

Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu! It is painful for our community when Israel attempts to narrow the religious recognition of the diaspora. Our community survived the Holocaust, remained faithful to its roots through the repressive communist regime, and we are not recognized as Jews? Can you disregard all the conversions, brit-milahs, weddings, rabbinical decisions taking place in our absolute neolog-majority communities? We, who are labelled as ‘stinking Jews’ in Europe, we, who support Israel’s efforts, we, who dream about Israel, why aren’t we good enough Jews any more for Israel?

Also the Israeli Foreign Affairs Ministry’s evaluation of the recent poster campaign was like a cold shower for our community. After the support of the Israeli Ambassador, this declaration of the Foreign Ministry caused sorrow in our community. Many felt that we had been abandoned. And we are not talking about the past now, but about the future of our community. About the hope that we have for our future, about the respect of the Jewish community that is catalyzing the relationship of the two countries. Prime Minister Netanyahu, I respectfully ask you to foster greater respect for the diaspora. Only a strong diaspora is able to help Israel, and we, Hungarian Jews, want to help.

Mr. Prime Ministers! We want to live as proud Jews and consider ourselves as responsible Hungarian citizens! We cannot keep silent when, due to daily political interests, our values are overridden. We Hungarian Jews do support Israel. We Hungarian Jews help the Hungarian government in all its endeavors that concur with our values. We supported Hungary’s presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance; we defended the government when an international Jewish organization baselessly attacked it; we work happily in society-building projects; and we are working nationwide for social cohesion. We think that the “little help” the Hungarian Prime Minister was asking for has always been given, and we wish to do the same in the future.

Mr. Prime Ministers! The 140-year-old Rabbinical Seminary – Jewish University was the institution that trained our rabbis and the ones of the Visegrád countries for decades, even during the Communist regime. It is in our common interest to develop this special institution into a regional educational center where the Hungarian and the Israeli academic world can create values together. Our most important task is the preservation of our traditions, education, training, and creating values. Seemingly everything is all right. Many people talk about a Jewish renaissance. In fact, we struggle not against the government, not against migration, not against the anti-Semites, but against assimilation. The question is in the long-run whether our children or grandchildren will live as Jews. We aspire for a positive Jewish communal self-image, part of which is Jewish consciousness and a strong Israel. We are convinced that it is in the basic interest of both Hungary and State of Israel not to divide the Hungarian Jewry of the Diaspora, not to alienate it but to help build our communities in order to continue living and to pass on our ancestors’ Hungarian and Jewish traditions. We have to continue building a bridge between our countries! And when we face obstacles on that bridge, it is our mutual responsibility, Mr. Prime Ministers, to resolve them with attentiveness, through dialogue and rationality, honestly revealing real reasons, and not by sweeping them under the rug.

Honorable Prime Ministers! I am asking your and the Almighty’s help to accomplish this.

July 20, 2017

Meeting of the minds: Benjamin Netanyahu and the Visegrád 4

Even though many analysts are talking about the impending disintegration of the Visegrád 4 regional alliance, Benjamin Netanyahu decided to use it for his own political ends. The glue that holds the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia together is their determination to keep immigrants and asylum seekers out of their countries. In addition, the Polish and Hungarian governments work hand in hand against the “Brussels bureaucrats” who allegedly want to create a United States of Europe in which national differences will disappear. Both governments refuse to abide by the rules of the European Union while enjoying its financial benefits. Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance at the Visegrád Four’s Budapest summit gave a huge boost to the anti-migrant policies of these countries and added fuel to the anti-EU posture of Poland and Hungary.

Thanks to an open microphone, we have a fair idea of how the Israeli prime minister wants to use the Visegrád 4. What we could hear was a “blistering attack” on the European Union. It is a well-known fact that Netanyahu has a “barely disguised contempt” for the EU, which often criticizes Israel over issues of the Jewish settlements and Netanyahu’s reluctance to continue the peace process. The Guardian described his remarks as bombastic, predicting the sad end of the European Union which may “shrivel and disappear,” especially if it doesn’t change its attitude toward the present Israeli government. “The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel, which produces technology in every area, on political conditions.” After this tirade he came to the real reason why he decided to accept Viktor Orbán’s invitation: “I think that if I can suggest that what comes out of this meeting is your ability perhaps to communicate to your colleagues in other parts of Europe: Help Europe … don’t undermine the one western country that defends European values and European interests and prevents another mass migration to Europe.” In fact, according to Netanyahu, “Europe ends in Israel [which] has no greater friends than the Christians who support Israel around the world.” He made it clear that he was talking not only about fundamentalist Christians.

What a happy crowd

The meeting was a real success. The prime ministers of the Visegrád 4 countries were impressed with Netanyahu and liked what they heard. At the end of the meeting he posted the following message on his Facebook page: “I’m happy the Visegrad Group accepted my invitation to hold its next summit in Israel. As the Jewish people say: Next year in Jerusalem!”

Haaretz, not exactly a supporter of the present Israeli government, called the leaked speech “bigheaded Euro-bashing … politically savvy and diplomatically demented” considering that the EU is Israel’s most important trading partner. As for using the Visegrád 4 to reshape the other member countries’ assessment of Netanyahu’s policies on settlements and the whole Palestinian issue, I have my doubts. Both Poland and Hungary are under a cloud in Brussels at the moment. It may just happen that both countries will face concerted efforts in the European Parliament to invoke Article 7 against them for gross transgressions of the basic values the European Union. As for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, they might not be willing to follow the lead of Poland and Hungary when it comes to confrontation with the EU. But as of now, it seems that Netanyahu achieved what he went to the Hungarian capital for.

From the descriptions of the events of the last two or three days, Viktor Orbán was in a fine mood, basking in the glory of being the host of such an important gathering. One can always read Viktor Orbán’s state of mind on such occasions. He can look glum, as when Angela Merkel visited Budapest, or radiant, as during Putin’s first trip to Hungary when he was light-hearted and relaxed.

By tonight, however, when he and Netanyahu paid a visit to the famous synagogue on Dohány utca where they met with the leaders of Mazsihisz (Alliance of Hungarian Jewish Congregations) his good mood may have been dampened. President András Heisler didn’t hide the Hungarian Jewish community’s criticism of Viktor Orbán’s anti-Soros campaign as well as Benjamin Netanyahu’s disregard of the Hungarian Jewry’s fears of anti-Semitism that the thousands of anti-Soros posters provoked. He also brought up the Hungarian government’s ambiguous attitude toward the Holocaust, although he was pleased that Orbán talked about the sin the Hungarian government committed at the time of the Holocaust. Turning to Netanyahu, he said that the disavowal of the Israeli ambassador’s statement on the Soros campaign came as a “cold shower” to him and his co-religionists. He emphasized that only a strong Jewish diaspora can help Israel effectively. Finally, he addressed Orbán and told him that Mazsihisz is ready to work with the Hungarian government when there is an agreement of views between them. I may add that this is not too often the case. Orbán didn’t respond to Heisler’s comments.

This oversized hat is the one Orbán puts on for appropriate occasions

I’m not sure whether too many observers will pay attention to one of the sentences in Heisler’s speech in which he talked about the importance of the unity of Hungarian Jewry and indicated that there are forces that are trying to sow discord among them. Indeed, the Orbán government has its favorite Jews: Rabbi Slomó Köves and his Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation (EMIH). The name of this Jewish group is highly misleading because it is an ultra-Orthodox group affiliated with the Chabad movement that has no deep roots in the Hungarian Jewish past. As opposed to Mazsihisz’s Heisler, EMIH’s Köves didn’t find that Orbán’s campaign against Soros had anything to do with anti-Semitism. Given his very strong relations, even financial, with the Orbán government, his position on the subject is not at all surprising. So, I assume that the reference to sowing discord in the Hungarian Jewish community has something to do with the disparity between the cozy relationship between the tiny EMIH and the Hungarian government on the one hand and the often strained relationship between the government and Mazsihisz, which represents mainstream Jewish congregations based on traditional Hungarian Jewish practices, on the other.

July 19, 2017