Tag Archives: anti-Soros campaign

Fidesz communication went astray. Total chaos and confusion

One of the headlines I encountered this morning, which appeared in 444, declared that the Orbán government’s anti-migrant propaganda, on which Fidesz’s whole election campaign rests, is “in tatters.” The embarrassment that began with Assistant Undersecretary Kristóf Altusz’s admission that in the last year 1,292 people received either refugee or subsidiary protection status has proved to be a major source of discomfort for the Orbán government, which swore that not one refugee will ever be admitted inside the borders of Hungary. It insisted that Hungary will remain “migrant free” and its culture unadulterated by an alien religion and a foreign culture. And now the hot topic of conversation is the number of refugees who have been more less settled by the ferociously anti-migrant government. That is bad enough in itself, but that all this was done in secret while the Orbán government spent billions on anti-migrant posters and conducted one of the most virulent hate campaigns was more than even some Fidesz supporters could swallow.

The government wasn’t expecting the upheaval that followed the discovery of the Altusz interview with The Times of Malta because these numbers were available on the website of the Immigration and Asylum Office, which I can recommend visiting. After seeing the smiling faces of black girls and boys, an attractive Muslim girl in traditional garb, a lovely young Chinese couple with a cute baby, one gets the impression that Hungary is a welcoming paradise for immigrants. But although all that information was readily available amid the incredible anti-immigrant noise the government created, few people bothered to check the statistics. I was among the few who called attention to the steady stream of refugees arriving in my November 2017 post “Beware, the refugees are coming!”

So, the information was there, but the vast majority of Hungarians believed that the Orbán government actually meant it when it said that no “illegal migrant” will ever reach Hungarian soil and, if they do, they will be immediately returned to wherever they came from. By now, most Hungarians are convinced that all migrants are dangerous and that they should be avoided at all costs. It was within this artificially created atmosphere that they learned that what the government had told them was merely empty propaganda. “Migrants” are coming and most likely will be coming in the future as well.

The government has to devise some clever way to change the communication adopted in 2015, to explain somehow to the folks in Őcsény that those “migrants” whom they refused to accept in their village for a weekend are actually the “guests” of the Orbán government. One of the tricks the Orbán government used to mislead the population was to conflate refugees and economic migrants. In the last few days government spokesmen are talking more about the Geneva Convention and Hungary’s obligation to give refugees shelter, but concurrently with this softer tone the hate campaign against the European Union’s refugee policy and those NGOs that allegedly support illegal migrants continues.

Still, confusion reigns regarding the direction of the “migrant” propaganda. According to Sándor Pintér, George Soros doesn’t support illegal migration. A day later, however, Viktor Orbán said in his Friday morning interview on Kossuth Rádió that “George Soros can decide what to do: he will cease to organize and support illegal migration.”

While the government is struggling to come up with a coherent, believable explanation of its refugee policy, more details are emerging about the sizable financial assistance that joint EU-government sources have given to NGOs that belong to the “Soros network” and whose activities are closely tied to assisting arriving refugees. A few days ago Szilárd Németh, defending his decision to ban LMP’s co-chair Bernadett Szél from attending certain sessions of the parliamentary committee on national security, found her guilty of working at one point for Menedék (“Asylum” in Hungarian), an organization dealing with migrant issues. But it turned out that the same Menedék received substantial grants from the Hungarian government and the European Commission’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF), so it is hard to argue that Szél’s short employment there in 2002 constitutes a seditious act. All told, since 2015 Menedék has received at least 150 million forints for projects like “Let’s Cooperate!” and “Welcoming kindergartens and schools.” AMIF provides 75% of the assistance, but the rest comes straight from the Hungarian government.

“I’m teaching Hungarian to refugees from Somalia” / Source: Párbeszéd Háza

 

Soon enough Magyar Nemzet found another NGO, “ Wheel of Fortune” (Jövőkerék), which had received millions of forints over the last few years for its work with newly arrived refugees. Earlier, the same NGO had received $48,000 from George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. The Hungarian branch of the United Nation’s International Migration Organization won three grants amounting to more than 100 million forints. The largest amount of money went to the Immigration and Asylum Office for projects like “We are all different,” “The beginning of a new life,” and “Travels along a long road.”

The latest piece of news on the “migrant” front came from Brussels and was reported today. The European Parliament, including the majority of the Fidesz MEPs, voted for a document that contained a request to the European Commission to facilitate cooperation with NGOs to ensure the human rights of refugees, especially those of defenseless women and girls. The text of the document, which is available on the website of the European Parliament, contains two crucial points. First, it calls on the Commission to work together with civil society and human rights organizations to ensure that the human rights of refugees and displaced persons in reception centers are upheld, particularly with respect to vulnerable women and girls. And second, it recognizes the possibilities for the integration of climate change mitigation and adaptation and women’s economic empowerment goals, particularly in developing countries; calls on the Commission and the Member States to explore in relevant projects and mechanisms, such as the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation (UN-REDD) program, how women could be offered paid employment opportunities to carry out the environmental services that they currently provide on a voluntary basis, for example reforestation, afforestation of cleared land, and the conservation of natural resources.

Whether the Fidesz MEPs knew exactly what they signed is hard to say. George Schöpflin admitted that he didn’t know what he voted for; he simply followed the instructions of Lívia Járóka, the newly appointed vice-president of the European Union. Járóka, who is of partly Roma origin, seems to be more sensitive to refugee issues than her comrades in Fidesz. Earlier I called attention to an interview she gave to Magyar Idők in which she refused to engage in any anti-migrant talk. Instead, she emphasized the necessity of integration. As she put it, “we would like it if they [the refugees] would understand that we find it important that, after a rapid and effective integration, armed with European knowledge, they would be able to return to their own homelands.” This was a new voice, which I duly noted at the time. In any case, Járóka managed to get the majority of Fidesz MEPs to vote for a document which, at least on the level of government communication, is not part of the Orbán government’s agenda.

Where Orbán is planning to go from here is hard to tell. The opposition parties collected enough signatures to force László Kövér, president of the parliament, to convene a special session of parliament on the issue of the “secret” admission of refugees to the country. Kövér cleverly set January 30th as the date, thereby saving Viktor Orbán from the embarrassment of being forced to attend. That day he will be meeting with Sebastian Kurz, the new chancellor of Austria.

January 24, 2018

Hungarian anti-Soros campaign hatched in Jerusalem?

Hungarian political life is winding down for the holidays. Normally, in the morning it takes me a couple of hours to read the news of the day in Hungary and elsewhere. But today there was not much to read about, save for a news item that arrived on my computer around noon.

The article came from The Jerusalem Post with the intriguing title “Likud Official Provided Intel for Hungarian Anti-Soros Campaign.” According to the article, about six months ago Eli Hazan, Likud’s international relations director, informed Viktor Orbán that Soros was “a dangerous man” who supported V15, an organization that had sought to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2015 election. A few weeks later, the Hungarian government launched a campaign against George Soros which, Hazan indicated, was a direct consequence of the information he had passed on to Orbán.

The Israeli NGO V15 did indeed want to see Benjamin Netanyahu defeated in 2015 and in partnership with a New York-based group called OneVoice tried to convince Israelis to vote the Likud government out of office. OneVoice is a global initiative that supports grassroots activists in Israel and Palestine who are working “to build the human infrastructure needed to create the necessary conditions for a just and negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” I read in Haaretz that V15 was also funded by the Jewish-American businessman S. Daniel Abraham. George Soros’s name was not mentioned, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Open Society Foundation supported the organization as well. In any case, Netanyahu’s Likud Party accused V15 of serving the interests of the Labor Party. The State Comptroller, however, ruled in October 2016 that “calling on people to vote for various political blocs does not constitute election propaganda.” So, whatever information Eli Hazan passed on to Viktor Orbán, it was most likely tainted and biased.

Hazan seems to be well acquainted with the situation in Budapest, and he is aware of the Hungarian Jews’ distaste for the anti-Soros campaign, which they consider to be anti-Semitic. In fact, after Hazan had written an op-ed for Israel Hayom, Israel’s largest daily paper which is considered to be biased in favor of Netanyahu, Hungarian Jewish officials asked him “not to talk about Soros.” Hazan is convinced, however, that “it’s in the Jewish interest to support Orbán.” He admits that there are anti-Semites in Orbán’s party, but “I can talk to him. We have a lot in common, like the fight against infiltrators.” I don’t know whom he is calling “infiltrators,” perhaps Muslims, perhaps foreign liberals.

If Hazan is telling the truth, the incredible hate campaign against George Soros in Hungary was hatched in Jerusalem for Israeli political reasons. Of course, Netanyahu needed a willing partner, whom he found in Viktor Orbán.

From everything that I’ve read about the Israeli prime minister’s views on Soros, I’m almost certain that he considers Soros to be behind all of his political opponents. At least that is what a meme that his son Yair Netanyahu posted on Facebook indicates. The meme is called “The Food Chain.” Soros is depicted holding a fishing rod with planet Earth on the hook as his bait. That captures the attention of a reptilian-like figure (apparently a common reference in anti-Semitic literature) that, in turn, holds up a fishing rod with a symbol of the Freemasons. The hooded figure is a scheming Illuminati Jew. The three characters are Israeli politicians, political opponents of Netanyahu–Ehud Barak, former prime minister; Eldad Yaniv, organizer of anti-Netanyahu protests; and Meni Naftali, former chief caretaker of the Netanyahus’ official residence, who won an abuse case against Sara Netanyahu.

Source: Facebook

Israeli commentators couldn’t decide whether this post by the prime minister’s son was supposed to be a joke or whether he actually believes in conspiracy theories. Opposition politicians, however, didn’t spare words in condemning his posting of an anti-Semitic cartoon.

Yair Netanyahu might have been in a joking mood, but one must assume that his father believes that NGOs are agents of his domestic opponents and that they are financed by foreign millionaires and billionaires of a liberal bent who want to topple his right-wing government.

I’m almost certain that Netanyahu shared that thought with Orbán when he visited Budapest. Orbán’s latest accusation against Soros-funded NGOs bears a suspicious resemblance to Netanyahu’s claim that V15 was a participant on the side of the Labor Party, working against his reelection in 2015. As a result, the two charitable organizations in Pécs and Debrecen have been transformed into election centers. Everything seems to fit nicely. Viktor Orbán discovered that the Israeli recipe is a politically useful tool.

As for the concerns of the Hungarian Jewish community, Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t seem to care very much. If there is any trouble, Likud’s international community director will take care of it because he and Orbán understand each other so well.

December 18, 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

The “totally successful” anti-Soros campaign comes to a sudden end

It was over the July 1-2 weekend that Hungary was plastered with thousands of posters showing a smiling George Soros. The accompanying text declared: “Don’t let Soros have the last laugh!” That is, the strong and proud Hungarians must stop Soros’s efforts to send millions of Middle Eastern and African migrants to Europe, some of whom may end up in Hungary. This latest campaign cost the taxpayers 5.6 billion forints, over and above the 11 billion that had already been spent on earlier anti-migrant campaigns.

Mazsihisz, the umbrella organization of religious Jewish communities, initially issued a bland statement about the unpleasant memories this poster campaign awakens in the Jewish community. A couple of days later, however, András Heisler, president of Mazsihisz, wrote a stronger letter to Viktor Orbán asking him to end the campaign and remove the posters. Although the poster is “not openly anti-Semitic, nevertheless it is capable of inducing anti-Semitic sentiments.” He pointed out that these fears are not unfounded because hateful inscriptions had already appeared on the Soros posters that recalled the darkest period of Hungarian history.

Hungarian and old German anti-Jewish poster from the 1930s, side by side

This letter couldn’t be ignored, and Orbán answered promptly. The bulk of the letter was devoted to the perils Hungary faces and the heroic efforts he and his government are undertaking for the safety of the homeland and Hungarian families. Illegal migration is clearly a national security question, and whoever threatens Hungary’s security will have to face the Hungarian state’s political and legal power regardless of ethnic origin or religious faith. He reminded Heisler that he is actually defending the Jewish community by opposing illegal migration, which is the hotbed of the growing anti-Semitism in Europe. “I don’t expect thanks or recognition for our struggle against illegal migration, but a little help from your community would be nice.” Orbán left Heisler’s request for the removal of the billboards unanswered. 24.hu called Orbán’s letter impertinent.

It was at that point that Yossi Amrani, Israel’s ambassador in Budapest, published the following statement both in English and Hungarian on the Israeli embassy’s Facebook page.

I call on those involved in the current billboard campaign and those responsible for it to reconsider the consequences.

No gain can come from such a campaign recalling the historic lesson.

At the moment beyond political criticism of a certain person, the campaign not only evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear.

It’s our moral responsibility to raise a voice and call on the relevant authorities to exert their power and put an end to this cycle.

Yossi Amrani
Ambassador of Israel
Budapest, Hungary

A day after the ambassador called on Orbán to remove the posters, however, on the instruction of the Israeli prime minister’s office the foreign ministry backtracked, criticizing George Soros, who “constantly undermines Israel’s governments.” The foreign ministry’s spokesman refrained from criticizing Viktor Orbán and strongly denounced George Soros. “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.”

This incident stirred quite a debate in Israel. Chemi Shalev, a Haaretz correspondent, wrote an opinion piece in which he didn’t mince words. According to him, the Israeli embassy in Budapest published an appropriate condemnation of the poster campaign against Soros “until Benjamin Netanyahu stuck a knife in their backs.” According to Shalev, “many Europeans, including Soros’ harshest critics, can clearly identify blatant anti-Semitism in these campaigns. Netanyahu apparently believes that his anti-Israeli position justifies throwing Soros to the anti-Semitic dogs.” He severely criticized Israel for its nationalistic, xenophobic, and insular policies which inevitably leads to “deepening ties and identification with similar countries that think and behave the same way.” Therefore, it is not at all surprising that Netanyahu and Orbán stand shoulder to shoulder despite Orbán’s recent praise of Miklós Horthy.

Gáspár Miklós Tamás (TGM) wrote a short thought-provoking essay in which he tries to define “modern anti-Semitism.” In his view it is not simply hostility toward a people or a religion but is an emotion that is against “universality.” Soros is an expression of that universality which the nationalistic, inward-looking far-right Orbán government finds unnatural. It considers it abnormal that someone identifies with others outside of his own people, religion, or sex. In that sense Benjamin Netanyahu’s government can be viewed as “anti-Semitic.” The Israeli prime minister will feel very much at home in Viktor Orbán’s company, he believes. “The boys will understand each other well.”

Meanwhile George Soros also raised his voice. “I am distressed by the current Hungarian regime’s use of anti-Semitic imagery as part of its deliberate disinformation campaign. Equally, I am heartened that together with countless fellow citizens the leadership of the Hungarian Jewish community has spoken out against the campaign.” In addition, Michael Vachon, director of communications for the Soros Fund Management and spokesman for George Soros himself, sent a letter around to explain what’s going on in Hungary. Apparently, the letter was written by Soros but appeared over the signature of Vachon. In Hungary it was published by 444.hu.

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I am writing to alert you to deeply troubling developments in the heart of the European Union, in Hungary.

It is urgent that you help spread the news about what is happening.

Last week the Fidesz-led government launched a nationwide billboard and television advertising campaign reminiscent of Europe’s darkest hours.

The campaign uses an image of a grinning George Soros with the slogan “Let’s not allow Soros to have the last laugh!”

Thousands of these posters have been plastered around the country: on billboards, on the metro, on the floors of Budapest’s trams so that people cannot enter the tram without trampling on Soros’s face.

Understanding the government’s intent, some of the posters have been defaced with hateful graffiti such as “stinking Jew” scrawled across Soros’s face. The government has spent $12.9 million (5.7 billion HUF) on the campaign so far.

Because of its clearly anti-Semitic overtones, the campaign has created an outcry amongst Hungary’s Jews and others. The leader of the Federation of the Hungarian Jewish Communities has called for an immediate removal of the poster as has Israel’s ambassador in Budapest.

Fidesz rejects charges that the campaign is anti-Semitic in nature and claims that the Hungarian government’s goal is to stop Soros’s “migrant campaign,” which they claim is promoting the immigration of a million illegal immigrants into Europe.

The government has consistently and willfully misrepresented Soros’s views on migration and refugees.

As a survivor of the Holocaust who hid from the Nazis in Budapest and later was himself a refugee, Soros knows first-hand what it means to be in mortal peril. He carries the memory of the international community’s rejection of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis. It is from the crucible of those experiences that his empathy for refugees from war-torn Syria and elsewhere was born.

Soros’s actual position on migration is that the international community should provide more support to the developing countries that today host 89% of refugees and that Europe should accept several hundred thousand fully screened refugees through an orderly process of vetting and resettlement. He believes that qualified asylum seekers should not have to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean to reach safety.

He also believes that Europe needs a common asylum system that equitably shares responsibility for protecting legitimate refugees rather than placing that burden on only a few countries. Soros’s position is entirely consistent with mainstream European values. The Hungarian regime’s xenophobia and demonization of refugees are anti-European. The claim that Soros is promoting a scheme to import a million illegal immigrants into Europe is Victor Orban’s fantasy.

Please help us spread the word about this anti-Semitic and anti-refugee campaign in the heart of Europe.

At the end of this email I have included sample images of the Fidesz poster campaign. I have also provided links to recent news stories that attempt to explain why George has inspired the wrath of authoritarian rulers around the world.

Regards,
Michael Vachon

The following day ATV reported that, according to an influential Fidesz insider, the anti-Soros campaign is coming to an end. In Orbán’s opinion, the campaign was a “complete success” because it not only solidified the forces of the liberals and socialists but even Jobbik became a defender of Soros. They all showed their true anti-nationalist colors. And the real sign of the success of the campaign is Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that the anti-Soros campaign is not anti-Semitic. But Orbán wants to avoid a situation in which all those posters take attention away from the Aquatic World Championship. So, allegedly, the posters must come down because of this sporting event.

This explanation is questionable. The world championship begins with a lavish opening ceremony on July 14, so one assumes that visitors and athletes will be coming to town already tomorrow and all through Friday. Will it be possible to remove the thousands of posters by then? Or, as some people suspect, is the real reason for the removal of them by July 15 Netanyahu’s arrival on July 18? Perhaps Orbán fears that the sea of posters might change the Israeli prime minister’s opinion of the nature of this hate campaign. MSZP compared the Orbán government’s swift removal of the billboards and posters to the temporary disappearance of most of the anti-Jewish signs before the commencement of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Historians well acquainted with Nazi propaganda methods find more and more common features between German anti-Semitic posters from the 1930s and the two anti-Soros posters that have appeared to date. Almost as if the propagandists hired by the Orbán government turned to the Third Reich for inspiration.

July 12, 2017