Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held his first phone call with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, considered the European Union's most prominent nationalist leader, on Monday night.
Orban has implemented numerous policies widely condemned as curtailing democracy. Since being elected for the second time in 2010, he has embarked on a legislative onslaught to impose restrictions on civil society, the media and the legal system.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who fiercely criticized then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for hosting Orban in 2018, was involved in the arrangements for the phone call and has spoken with his Hungarian counterpart several times in recent months.
Lapid is also planning an official visit to Hungary, which has already been scheduled twice, but canceled both times due to the coronavirus. Bennett’s phone call with Orban took place at Hungary's request and was arranged in cooperation with the National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry.
A statement released by Bennett’s office said he thanked Orban for Hungary’s strong support of Israel in international forums, and the two agreed to continue their countries’ bilateral cooperation and remain in regular contact.
When Orban visited Israel in 2018, Lapid said that by hosting him, Netanyahu had “offended Israel’s dignity and national pride. Netanyahu didn’t utter even a word of condemnation of Orban for having praised and lauded Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian leader during World War II, who forged an alliance with Hitler and the Nazis and was an active partner in the Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry.”
Lapid, who was in the opposition at that time, termed the visit “a disgrace” on Twitter.
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Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, who was also an opposition lawmaker at the time, wrote prior to that visit that “someone who praises leaders who cooperated with the Nazis, someone who persecutes human rights organizations and the opposition in his own country, isn’t wanted here.”
Hungary is set to hold elections in April, which Orban will face off against an alliance of six opposition parties. In terms of their ideologies, these parties have almost nothing in common. They include socialists, liberals and the Jobbik party, which used to be a far-right party.
Orban launched his campaign in October with a speech accusing Brussels and Washington of trying to intervene in his country’s domestic politics. He urged voters to preserve his Fidesz party’s nationalist achievements while in power. He also accused George Soros, an American Jewish billionaire who was born in Hungary and survived the Holocaust there, of trying to get the left-wing opposition elected by using his money, his connections and the media.