Hungary's controversial PM kicks off visit to Israel
Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán to arrive in Israel for the first time Wednesday; Orbán is a problematic figure who praised Hungarian leaders who collaborated with the Nazis during WWII; Yad Vashem rejects Amnesty International demand to cancel Orbán's visit to the museum.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will arrive in Israel on Wednesday evening for a three-day visit as the guest of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This is the first visit to Israel for Orbán, who is regarded as one of the more controversial leaders of the European Union because of his support of anti-democratic legislation.
Orbán will arrive in Israel accompanied by several of his ministers. He is scheduled to meet with President Reuven Rivlin and Chief Rabbi David Lau, and will dine with Prime Minister Netanyahu at his official residence in Jerusalem.
Orbán will also tour the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem and plant a tree at the Nations Forest in the capital. On Friday, Orbán will visit the Western Wall before returning to his country.
The Hungarian PM will skip a visit to the Palestinian Authority, but he is sending his deputy to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
Israel to press Orbán to move embassy to Jerusalem
The Israeli government attaches great importance to the visit because Hungary is considered a very close ally of Israel in Europe, helping thwart several anti-Israeli resolutions in Brussels, including an EU resolution to condemn the American decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
Netanyahu hopes to persuade Orbán to move the Hungarian embassy to Jerusalem, or, alternatively, to take a step in that direction, similar to the step taken by Czech Republic, which declared the founding of the Czech Center in Jerusalem that will coordinate cultural, economic and tourism activities.
Hungary is a member of the Visegrád Group (V4), which includes Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. A year ago, Netanyahu visited Budapest and took part in the V4 summit, attended by its four leaders. At the summit, Netanyahu attacked the European Union for conditioning its relations with Israel on the Palestinian issue.
Netanyahu wants to hold a summit of the V4 countries in Israel, and his meeting with Orbán is an important step in this direction. Netanyahu hopes that these four countries will make a joint decision to move their embassies to Jerusalem—thus overcoming European opposition.
Israel's reconciliation with the Polish government after the diplomatic crisis surrounding the Polish Holocaust law is helping pave the way for a V4 summit in Jerusalem, although no date has been set.
Hungary and Israel share a few things in common. Hungary is also waging a war against the EU and is disdainful of the EU's attempts to intervene in its internal affairs. The main confrontation between Orbán and the EU concerns Hungary's strong opposition to take in immigration.
Netanyahu is rolling out the red carpet to welcome his Hungarian counterpart, despite his problematic views on Hungary's role in the Holocaust and his anti-democratic legislation.
A year ago, Orbán announced at an official ceremony that Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian ruler during World War II, was a great and extraordinary leader, despite the fact Horthy was known as an anti-Semitic nationalist, joined the Axis alliance during the war and was an active Nazi collaborator.
During his visit to Hungary last year, Orbán told Netanyahu that Hungary may have committed crimes against Jews during the 20th century, but would never tolerate anti-Semitism.
"My country's cooperation with the Nazis was a mistake and a sin," Orbán said at the time, referring to Hungary's inability to protect its Jewish community.
The Hungarian prime minister also told his Israeli counterpart that "such a thing will never happen again because Hungary protects all its citizens. About 550,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust."
Orbán has been leading efforts to reduce democracy in Hungary through legislation, imposing restrictions on civilians, and restricting the freedom of the press and the judicial system.
A public anti-Semitic campaign
Amnesty International called Orbán is "a tyrannical ruler of his country, a fascist and cruel dictator in the making, who persecutes political opponents, human rights organizations, refugees and asylum seekers, Jews, LGBTs, Romani people and anyone he deems a 'stranger.'"
Over the past year, Orbán has led a public anti-Semitic campaign against Jewish philanthropist George Soros, using language and phrases taken from old Nazi propaganda. This campaign was met with fierce condemnation from the Hungarian Jewish community.
Yad Vashem rejected Amnesty International's demand to cancel Orbán's visit to the memorial site, and the human rights organization announced that it would hold a demonstration outside the Yad Vashem premises to protest the visit.
"The Prime Minister of Hungary is a guest of the State of Israel. Yad Vashem receives guests of the State in accordance with the visit plan compiled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for official visits to the State of Israel," Yad Vashem said. "The Prime Minister of Hungary will tour the Holocaust History Museum and will receive a comprehensive lecture on the Holocaust from Hungarian Holocaust scholar Dr. Robert Rozett."