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Tensions between Israel and Hungary escalated on Saturday over anti-Semitic messages in the election campaign of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, less than 10 days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves for a diplomatic summit in Budapest.
Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, Yossi Amrani, released an unusually harsh statement calling on Orban and his party to remove posters published across the country against Hungarian-born Jewish-American billionaire George Soros. Figures in the Hungarian Jewish community said the ads are fueling anti-Semitic sentiment.
"I call on those involved in the current billboard campaign and those responsible for it to reconsider the consequences,” Amrani wrote in the statement, which was approved by the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
"No gain can come from such a campaign recalling the historic lesson," Amrani said. "At the moment beyond political criticism of a certain person, the campaign not only evokes sad memories but also sow hatred and fear.
"It's our moral responsibility to raise a voice and call on the relevant authorities to exert their power and put an end to this cycle."
The tensions come at a particularly sensitive time, considering that on July 18 Netanyahu is expected to meet his Hungarian counterpart in Budapest. This is the first visit of an Israeli prime minister in Hungary in 30 years. The day after their meeting, Netanyahu and Orban are scheduled to meet with the leaders of Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.
The Hungarian Foreign Ministry in Budapest issued a statement of its own, rejecting the criticism and saying that it was Hungary’s “duty is to defend our homeland and citizens,” and that: "Just like Israel, Hungary too takes steps against anyone who represents a risk to the national security of the country and its citizens."
The posters appearing all over Hungary over the past few days feature a picture of Soros where he is seen laughing. Next to the picture are the words “Let’s not let Soros have the last laugh.” Some of the posters were glued to the floor of train cars in Budapest and other cities so that anyone boarding the train would have to step on them.
Orban and his party, Fidesz, are attacking Soros because of the latter’s supposed activity against Hungary’s harsh policies toward the entry of Muslim refugees. Orban and Fidesz have taken a nationalist, racist, Islamophobic line ahead of the elections in 2018. They claim that 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 very concerned over the messages in Orban’s election campaign, particularly the ones against Soros. Since the launch of the campaign, the media in Hungary has reported a number of incidents in which anti-Semitic graffiti has been spray-painted on the posters.
Senior figures in the Jewish community have conveyed very worried messages to the Israeli Embassy in Budapest about the posters, which they say have anti-Semitic connotations and encourage an atmosphere of aggression against Jews, in light of the fact that many Hungarians consider Soros as Jewish first of all.
In a letter last week the head of Hungary’s federation of Jewish communities, Andras Heisler, asked Orban to stop the campaign because of what he said was its anti-Semitic content. On Friday, Orban responded that the campaign would not be suspended and it was his duty to protect Hungary against illegal immigration. In his response, Orban called Soros a “billionaire speculator,” an expression that also has anti-Semitic overtones, and called on the Jewish community to help him fight illegal immigration, which he said "imports anti-Semitism" to Europe.
This is the second clash in only a few days between Israel and Hungary over messages with anti-Semitic connotations promulgated by Orban and his party. Two weeks ago at an election rally, Orban praised Hungary’s leader during World War II, Miklos Horthy, who collaborated with the Nazis, and under whose rule half a million Hungarian Jews were deported to extermination camps where most were murdered. Israel protested the statements to the government in Budapest, but in order not to compromise the upcoming summit between Orban and Netanyahu, agreed to respond with restraint and made do with a weakly worded clarification by the Hungarian foreign minister.