Hungarian PM to Netanyahu: We Cooperated With Nazis Instead of Protecting Jews, Won't Happen Again

'I made it clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that the government will secure the Jewish minority and that we have zero tolerance to anti-Semitism,' Orban says during Netanyahu's visit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Hungarian counterpart in Budapest, Hungary, July 18, 2017.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Hungarian counterpart in Budapest, Hungary, July 18, 2017. Balazs Mohai/AP

BUDAPEST – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban clarified at the end of his Tuesday meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the parliament in Budapest that he acknowledges the crimes of his country toward Jews during the Holocaust.

He also emphasized that Hungary will protect its Jewish community and battle anti-Semitism.

Netanyahu said he had told Orban of the Hungarian Jewish community’s concerns about anti-Semitism there. Over the past few weeks, community leaders have passed on messages, both publicly and through private channels, of their great fears following Orban’s praise of Mikos Horthy, who served as the regent of Hungary during most of World War II and who cooperated with the Nazis, as well as Orban’s campaign against Hungarian-born Jewish business magnate George Soros.     

"Every Hungarian government has the duty to protect all of its citizens, regardless of their heritage,” said Orban. “During World War II, Hungary did not comply with this moral and political requirement. This is a sin, because at the time, we decided that instead of protecting the Jewish community, we chose collaboration with the Nazis,” Orban continued. “I made it clear to [Netanyahu] that this can never happen again. In the future, the Hungarian government will protect all its citizens.”

Orban noted that the “sizable” Jewish community was undergoing a renaissance and that this was a positive thing. He added that Hungary was proud of the contribution of its Jewish community over the years.

Orban’s speech in praise of Horthy last month created additional tensions with Israel. Netanyahu instructed Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yossi Amrani to demand clarifications from the Hungarian government. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto spoke to Amrani on the phone to end the affair, and in a statement to the press released after the phone call, Szijjarto said he had made clear to Amrani that the Hungarian government had zero tolerance for any kind of anti-Semitism. Although Szijjarto did not clarify Orban’s remarks, apologize or express regret for them, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, with an eye on the upcoming summit, decided to act with restraint and close the matter.

During the meeting with Orban, Netanyahu asked his counterpart about his statements concerning Horthy, and during the press briefing Orban said the Hungarian government is committed to fighting anti-Semitism in Europe today.

After his comments on fighting anti-Semitism, Orban noted that Hungary recognizes Israel’s right to self defense and also wants other nations to recognize that of Hungary. Speaking about Hungary’s confrontations with the European Union on matters of refugees and immigration, he said he made it clear to Netanyahu that “Hungary has serious disputes in the EU, as Hungary does not want a mixed population.”

Orban added that Hungary “does not want to change its current ethnic composition, it does not want to defer to any external, artificial influence. We'd like to remain as we are, even if, I have to admit, we are not perfect.”

Orban told Netanyahu that Hungary was pleased to greet such a dedicated patriot, saying that patriotic governments were the most successful and that successful government will be those who do not ignore national identity and interests. 

Netanyahu’s visit to Hungary, the first by an Israeli prime minister in over 30 years, was supposed to have been a festive occasion devoid of drama. But because of Orban’s campaign against Soros, Netanyahu’s visit has come to be regarded as a test of the right-wing Israeli government’s attitude toward the nationalist right-wing governments in Europe.

These governments do not often criticize the occupation or the settlements, but they try to rewrite the history of their countries during the Holocaust and implement nationalist and racist policies that can stir anti-Semitism.

On Wednesday evening, Netanyahu will meet with members of the Jewish community at Budapest’s Great Synagogue. Such an event, usually a routine part of a prime minister’s visit to a foreign country, has taken on much more significance in light of the recent events in Hungary. Last week, Andras Heisler, head of the Hungarian Jewish community, met with officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.