A lot of elements are at stake in this crucial diplomatic visit, and it wasn’t smooth sailing before PM Benjamin Netanyahu set off to Budapest.
By Herb Keinon, JPOST
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu landed in Budapest on Monday, marking the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister has visited Hungary since the country emerged from Communist rule in 1989.
However, the run-up to the visit – Netanyahu will meet with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, as well as take part in a summit of the four-country Visegrad group made up of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – has been anything but smooth.
First, there is the fact that Jobbik, a far-right party with a history of antisemitism, is the third-largest party in the country.
Second is the government’s anti-immigrant billboard campaign, which has antisemitic overtones because it is using the image of George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jewish financier who is a harsh critic of Orban’s government.
Soros is also a strident critic of Israel who supports a number of NGOs with radical left-wing agendas, such as Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, Yesh Din and al-Haq.
And third are Orban’s comments from a few weeks ago in which he praised Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian leader during World War II when 600,000 of the country’s 800,000 Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
Those three factors have led to criticism of Netanyahu in recent days from some circles accusing him of playing footsie with a leader many feel has authoritarian leanings and who – in the run-up to elections next spring in which Jobbik is his main rival – is trying to burnish his right-wing credentials by rewriting history and praising people such as Horthy.
All this raises two questions. If Orban is indeed playing to latent (and often not so latent) strains of Hungarian antisemitism – antisemitism of the classical the-Jews-killed- Jesus-and-run-the-world variety – why did he invite Netanyahu? And the other question is why would Netanyahu want to go? Regarding Orban’s invitation, it is worth noting that when he visited Israel in the mid-2000s as head of the opposition, Netanyahu was one of the few politicians who paid attention to him, and the two struck up a good relationship.
When Orban then became prime minister in 2010, he began pushing for Netanyahu to visit.
One reason he wanted the visit was the election put him at odds with the European Union, which was concerned about what it saw as his authoritarian and illiberal leanings, and a visit by Netanyahu would give him a degree of legitimacy and respect. The visit never materialized.
Fast-forward to 2017, and two new elements have emerged making such a visit – from Orban’s perspective – even potentially more beneficial now.
The first is that the country is going to elections in 2018, and still remains relatively isolated in the EU. World leaders are not exactly beating a path to Orban’s door, so photo opportunities of a visit by Netanyahu – a recognized world figure in much of the world – can help Orban domestically by showing that …read more