Hungary to Take Down Campaign Targeting George Soros Ahead of Netanyahu Visit

Announcement comes days after the Israeli ambassador and local Jewish community expressed fear the campaign could provoke anti-Semitic sentiments. Netanyahu later retracted envoy's protest, slammed George Soros

Hungarian government poster portraying financier George Soros read 'Don't let George Soros have the last laugh' in Budapest, Hungary, July 11, 2017.
LASZLO BALOGH/REUTERS

The Hungarian government announced on Wednesday that it will take down all the posters denigrating Jewish business baron George Soros by July 15, three days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with his Hungarian counterpart, Viktor Orbán, in Budapest.

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In its announcement, the Hungarian government did not mention of the protest by the local Jewish community or messages from the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The statement said that the anti-Soros campaign had achieved its goals, so was not necessary any more, while adding that a new law that governs political posters in public venues will be coming into force on July 15.

According to a report on the Hungarian television network ATV, a top personality in the ruling party Fidesz said one reason for Orban's order to remove the posters is Netanyahu's coming visit, which he doesn't want colored by this affair. Another reason, he said, is the water-polo competition in Budapest starting July 14, featuring teams from around the world. 

Tensions between Israel and Hungary over the campaign escalated on Saturday when Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yossi Amrani issued an extraordinarily sharp statement in which he called on Orbán and his party, Fidesz, to remove posters hung throughout the country on the grounds that they could provoke anti-Semitic sentiment.

A day later, the Foreign Ministry retracted the statement at the behest of the Prime Minister's Benjamin Netanyahu. Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon issued a clarification that refrained from criticizing Orbán but also sharply criticized Soros himself, using claims similar to the ones being made against him by the Hungarian government.

The posters appearing all over Hungary over the past few days feature a picture of Soros laughing and are captioned, “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh.” Orbán and Fidesz are attacking Soros – who was born in Budapest and survived Nazi-occupied Hungary – because of the latter’s supposed activity against Hungary’s harsh policies toward the entry of Muslim refugees. 

Orbán and Fidesz have taken what many see as a nationalist, racist and Islamophobic line ahead of the 2018 election. They claim Soros funds civil society groups and liberal associations in Hungary with the purpose of “settling a million migrants” in the country.

The Jewish community in Hungary, numbering over 100,000, is extremely concerned by the messages in Orbán’s election campaign – particularly the ones against Soros. Since the launch of the campaign, the Hungarian media has reported a number of incidents in which anti-Semitic graffiti has been spray-painted on the posters.