Hungary's Viktor Orban, Symbol of Europe's Right-wing Turn, Arrives in Israel

Opposition lawmakers slam visit, accusing Netanyahu of sabotaging EU and noting that Orbán praised Hungary's WWII-era leader, who collaborated with Nazis

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, with his wife Aniko, and Danny Danon in Israel, July 18, 2018.
Foreign Ministry

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, arrived in Israel on Wednesday evening for an official two-day visit.

Orbán will dine privately, as the official portion of his trip doesn’t begin until Thursday morning. But Szijjártó will meet in the Knesset on Wednesday evening with Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, and on Thursday, he will have breakfast with Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem.

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Orbán’s official schedule starts at 10 A.M. Thursday morning, when he meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also meets with President Reuven Rivlin, and Chief Rabbi David Lau.

In the afternoon, Orbán will tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center, then plant a tree in the Grove of Nations, located in the Jerusalem Forest. In the evening he will dine with Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at the prime minister’s official residence, while his entourage eats with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.

On Friday morning, Orbán will visit the Western Wall, then fly back to Hungary. He has no planned meetings with senior Palestinian Authority officials.

Opposition slams visit

Opposition Knesset members meanwhile condemned the visit, and Hungarian Holocaust survivors are expected to stage a protest during Orbán’s visit to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on Thursday.

“After he plundered the memory of the victims of the Holocaust in the agreement with Poland, today Netanyahu will honor Hungarian Prime Minister Orban, who praised the anti-Semitic Nazi collaborator in the annihilation of the Jews of Hungary,” Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid tweeted Wednesday.

Meretz chairwoman MK Tamar Zandberg addressed Orban in Hungarian on her Twitter account, posting: “Those who praise collaborators with the Nazis, those who persecute human rights groups and the opposition in their country – are not welcome here.”

MK Ksenia Svetlova (Zionist Union) said: “Netanyahu, who uses the term ‘Auschwitz borders’ to instill fear in the hearts of the Jewish people,” is now rehabilitating “the dark history in countries where the leaders and the people collaborated with the Nazis and murdered Jews.”

Apparently for Netanyahu, the ends justify the means,” Svetlova said, adding: that “the ends are clear: damaging the European Union [by means of] closer ties to Eastern European countries that define themselves as illiberal democracies.”

A nationalist lightning rod

Orbán, who was recently reelected to a third consecutive term, is considered a European Union nationalist lightning rod. He has led a policy of restricting democracy in his own country. Since his reelection in 2010, after having previously served as prime minister from 1998 to 2002, he has waged a legislative offensive to impose restrictions on civil society, the media and the justice system. He gerrymandered voting districts in a move that helped him remain in power.

As part of his battle against human rights organizations in Hungary, Orbán introduced legislation nicknamed the “Stop Soros” bill, to criminalize these groups’ efforts to help asylum seekers. George Soros, a Jewish billionaire born in Hungary, supports many of the country’s liberal organizations. After Orban won reelection in April, Netanyahu called to congratulate him on his victory. Orbán’s right-wing Fidesz party won decisively, capturing two-thirds of the seats in parliament. As a result, Orban now has a majority that would enable him to amend the constitution.

Under Netanyahu’s leadership, Israel has drawn closer to central European countries, such as the Visegrad Group – Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - an alliance Israel partly aims to use to weaken the European Union consensus on Palestinian and Iranian issues. Apart from their improved ties with Israel, the Visegrad countries have increasingly been at odds with western Europe, first and foremost Germany, over the massive migration wave of 2015 and global terrorism, in a way that has cast doubt on the shared liberal values on which the EU is based. Under Orbán, Hungary has spearheaded this battle.