Netanyahu Pushes Hosting Visegrad Group in Israel in Talks With Senior Hungarian Official

If the Central European countries take the prime minister up on his offer, it will mark a new level in relations between them and Israel

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban (center) speaks as Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Robert Fico, Slovakia's prime minister, listen during a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, July 19, 2017.
Bloomberg

In the shadow of the crisis with Poland over the new Holocaust law and the ongoing campaign in Hungary against Jewish billionaire George Soros, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met on Tuesday with the Jozsef Czukor, a senior foreign policy adviser to Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto.

The two discussed the possibility that Israel will host a meeting of the Visegrad group of nations, also known as the V4, in the coming months. The four Visegrad countries are Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

If Netanyahu’s efforts bear fruit and the summit is held in Israel, it will mark a new level in relations with these Central European counties, whose governments are considered the most right-wing in Europe. This would be particularly important in the case of Poland, which recently passed a law forbidding any mention of the Polish nation’s involvement in Nazi crimes.

Before his meeting with Netanyahu, Czukor met with Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. The two discussed developments in the region, cooperation in the fight against terror and strengthening relations between the two countries on security and other bilateral issues, said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Holding the Visegrad summit in Israel is a step up in relations with [those countries],” said Zionist Union lawmaker Nachman Shai, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. “Israel must insist that these nations do not harm foreigners and preserve human rights. It is impossible to separate foreign relations from internal policies.”

Lawmaker Tamar Zandberg of Meretz, who is running for the party’s leadership, said: “If the conference is held in Israel, Netanyahu cannot say ‘I didn’t know.’ The dangerous tango of the Likud with the pariahs among anti-Semites disgraces all of Israel. It is embarrassing that Israel is willing to suffer classic and blatant anti-Semitism just because they, too, support the occupation and hate Muslims. This is a stain on the Jewish state and harms Israel’s interests around the world.”

Dr. Nimrod Goren, the founder and head of Mitvim - The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, a progressive Israeli think tank, said Netanyahu’s offer to host the Visegard conference is “another signal to the change in direction of Israel’s foreign policy concerning Europe. The Netanyahu government is adopting a tougher approach toward the European Union and its traditional allies on the continent, and is turning more and more to cooperation with governments that challenge the liberal and democratic values at the foundation of the European project.”

Goren added that in doing so, Israel is also taking a side in the internal European disagreement – which is actually on the side opposed to Israel’s long-standing foreign policy. For example, “when Israel wanted to send messages to Iran recently, it did not turn to its new friends among the Visegard nations but actually to Germany, Britain and France. This is what happened in many other cases. These are our allies, they are those who are capable of supplying the goods, and we must cultivate our relations with them, even when there are policies disagreements,” he said.

In July 2017, Netanyahu participated in the Visegrad summit held in Budapest and proposed that Israel host one of the V4’s regular meetings.

During the closed-session meeting last July, Netanyahu harshly criticized the European Union, saying the EU’s behavior toward Israel is crazy. Netanyahu’s remarks were accidentally transmitted to the headphones distributed to journalists, though his staff discovered the transmission and shut it down within a few minutes.

“The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel, that produces technology and every area, on political conditions. The only ones! Nobody does it,” Netanyahu said.

“It’s crazy. It’s actually crazy,” he continued, referring to the EU’s insistence to condition the European Union Association Agreement on certain terms related to the peace process. “It’s not about my interest. I’m talking about Europe’s interests.”

“We have a special relationship with China. And they don’t care. They don’t care about the political issues. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he needs water for his people. Where will I get it? Ramallah? No,” said Netanyahu, adding that Israeli cows produce more milk than any other cows in the world – double the European average.