WASHINGTON – Israel's embassy in the United States hosted an event in honor of Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, who represents a country that has been criticized by Jewish organizations for its approach to anti-Semitism. Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer spoke at the event and praised Hungary for being a great friend to Israel under the leadership of current Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
The event took place last week during a visit by Szijjarto to the United States. The Hungarian foreign minister also met with Mike Pompeo, the recently appointed secretary of state. Pompeo's two predecessors, Rex Tillerson and John Kerry, never held one-on-one meetings with Hungary's foreign minister, reportedly because of criticism against the European country on issues like human rights, civil liberties and the political use of anti-Semitism. A report by the Daily Beast said that professional diplomats at the U.S. State Department were "disgusted" by Pompeo's decision to meet with a representative of Orban's government.
Pompeo and Szijjarto discussed, among other things, the need for a "balanced and fair approach to Israel" in international forums. Hungary has helped Israel on a number of recent occasions to push back against EU resolutions condemning Israeli policies. Hungary also helped bring down an EU resolution condemning the United States' decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Israeli media outlets were not invited to the embassy event with Szijjarto, which the embassy blamed on a technical miscommunication. But the Hungarian press did report on the event, quoting Dermer as saying that "Hungarian-Israeli relations are extremely good and the two countries have been developing strong cooperation in an increasing number of areas."
Dermer, according to one report, also said that Israel "greatly appreciates its friendship with Hungary and the support received in international organizations, as well as the Hungarian prime minister’s statement regarding zero-tolerance policy against anti-Semitism." He also reportedly said that "it is not surprising that one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe lives in Hungary."
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Orban ran a campaign last year against Jewish billionaire George Soros, which came under fire for its anti-Semitic overtones. Orban accused Soros of using "his wealth, power, influence and a network of non-governmental organizations" to settle millions of migrants in Hungary and the EU. In response, Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yossi Amrani called on Orban and his party to remove billboards published across the country against Soros, saying they "not only evokes sad memories but also sow hatred and fear."
At the same time, the U.S. Holocaust museum accused Orban of attempts to "rehabilitate the reputation of Hungary's wartime leader Miklos Horthy, who was a vocal anti-Semite and complicit in the murder of the country's Jewish population during the Holocaust."
After Orban's election victory in April, and despite the accusations against his campaign for spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called to congratulate him on the results and invited him to visit Israel. Netanyahu visited Budapest last June, at the same time that the Hungarian Jewish community was criticizing Orban for the Soros campaign and for his statements on Horthy.