This distinction is clearly evident from the order issued by the Prime Minister’s Office that Israel’s ambassador in Budapest, Yossi Amrani, retract a statement calling on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his party to halt a smear poster campaign against the Jewish tycoon.
The ambassador’s initial statement was issued following concerns that the campaign was evoking anti-Semitic sentiments against the Jewish population in Hungary, which includes more than 100,000 people. The alternative clarification statement issued by the Foreign Ministry, at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s behest, fails to criticize the Hungarian prime minister over the campaign but does criticize the subject of the campaign, Goerge Soros, harshly referring to him as a man who “continuously undermines democratically elected governments.” Soros’ sin, if you haven’t heard, is supporting human rights organizations and democracy in Hungary and in many other countries, including Israel.
It’s safe to assume Netanyahu wouldn’t have rushed to legitimize Orban and his party’s sophisticated use of a language with anti-Semitic codes, which implies Soros is part of “a Jewish financial conspiracy,” if he were not a tycoon who funds human rights organizations but rather a tycoon funding the Israeli prime minister’s media outlets and campaigns or offering his family gifts.
While Netanyahu granted Orban a moral exemption for the campaign, which is part of his ongoing persecution of Soros, Jewish organizations and activists, as well as Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European Commission, have openly criticized the anti-Semitic nature of the actions and comments of the Hungarian prime minister and his party.
This isn’t the first time this month that Netanyahu shows tolerance towards Orban on matters involving anti-Semitism. About a week ago, as part of a nationalistic and racist election campaign, Orban delivered a speech praising Miklos Horthy, Hungary’s leader during the Holocaust. Horthy was Adolf Hitler’s ally, he cooperated with the Nazis during the occupation and allowed them to transfer about half a million of Hungary’s Jews to the death camps. Orban’s comments sparked a row and condemnations from the Jewish community in Hungary and from major Jewish centers around the world. Israel’s ambassador in Budapest asked for clarifications for Orban’s remarks, but the Foreign Ministry eventually settled for the weak clarification from the Hungarian foreign minister, who said “we must remember that Miklos Horthy’s regime had positive periods but also very negative periods.”
One of the explanations for this tolerant attitude, and for the acceptance of the Hungarian prime minister’s actions and comments, is that Netanyahu doesn’t want to sabotage his visit to Hungary next week. He had no problem, however, calling off a meeting with the German foreign minister, simply because the latter refused his demand to cancel his meeting with Breaking the Silence representatives.
But beyond the useful political calculation, it’s not by chance that Netanyahu is so tolerant towards Orban. The two leaders share an ideology on the image of the desirable regime. They share the anti-democracy vision Orban and his party have been implementing in Hungary for several years now.
This vision includes a gradual, systematic and intentional weakening of all the checks and balances in the constitutional system, as well as subjugating the external and internal control systems to the government which they are supposed to be supervising and reviewing. It includes massive legislation that weakens independent democratic centers of power and the legal system, legislation of nationalistic basic laws, taking over the media and persecuting minorities and civil society organizations in the name of defending national interests and the national spirit.
Isn’t it ironic that about a month ago, the Hungarian parliament adopted a NGO law similar to the Israeli one, which limits donations received from foreign countries?