Friday, July 20, 2018

Hungary's PM Orban: Antisemitism Rising In Western Europe While Declining In Eastern Europe

Orban: Antisemitism rising in western Europe, declining in eastern Europe

Carrying signs reading “Never Again,” “Shame on you,” and “Every tyrant has a Yad Vashem,” several dozen protesters briefly blocked the motorcade of visiting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban when he left Yad Vashem Thursday.

Orban, seen as a symbol of a sharp rightward turn in parts of Europe and as someone who has fanned the flames of antisemitism in Hungary by saluting World War II Hungarian leader Miklos Horthy and by his continuous attacks on Hungarian-born Jewish financier George Soros, had just toured the Yad Vashem Museum and laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance.

Police quickly removed the protesters. Demonstrations against visiting leaders, as well as demonstrations at Yad Vashem, are rare. Amnesty International called earlier this week for demonstrations against Orban during his visit to the Holocaust memorial.

Following that visit Orban and his wife Anikó Lévai went to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence for a private dinner. The two leaders met earlier in the day.

Orban arrived Wednesday as the first Hungarian premier to visit Israel. He is scheduled to leave Friday after visiting the Western Wall.

Yad Vashem issued a statement after Orban’s visit saying that the Hungarian leader is a guest of Israel, and that “Yad Vashem receives guests of the state in accordance with an itinerary set by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for official visits.”

According to the statement, Orban toured the Yad Vashem museum and was guided by Robert Rozett, a historian of Hungarian Jewry during the Holocaust.

Before his meeting with Netanyahu Wednesday, Orban said that antisemitism in Western Europe is on the rise, while it is declining in Eastern Europe.

Orban said that he is willing to work together with Israel in the struggle against antisemitism, which he said includes harsh statements against Israel.

“I want to tell you that in Hungary there is no tolerance for antisemitism, and all Jews in Hungary are protected by the government,” he said through a Hebrew interpreter. “We are proud that in Hungary those who declare themselves Jews and live a Jewish lifestyle can feel secure.”

Orban noted that the Hungarian government has done a great deal to build Jewish culture in the country, including refurbishing synagogues, preserving cemeteries and investing in education.

The Hungarian leader lauded the “excellent” relations between Israel and Hungary, and said it is due to his friendship with Netanyahu. Both countries, he explained, have “patriotic leaders,” and a “Hungarian patriot and a Jewish Israeli patriot can always find something in common.”

Orban said that he and Netanyahu see the challenges facing the world in the 21st century in similar ways. “There is full agreement between us that security is the most important thing, and that each nation has the right to defend its citizens, and our obligation is to give our citizens a sense of security.”

Orban, who is staunchly opposed to the refugee influx into Europe, said that Europe is facing a dual crisis of refugees and terrorism, with terrorists taking advantage of the refugees to get into Europe.

“We need to take steps against this phenomenon,” he said.

Netanyahu, in his remarks, said that he and Orban understand that the threat of radical Islam is a “real one” that could endanger Europe and the world, and which “certainly endangers us and our Arab neighbors.”

“You have stood up for Israel time and time again in international forums,” he said. “It is deeply appreciated. An important goal of Israeli foreign policy is to change not only our bilateral relations with so many countries, and indeed our relations are flourishing as never before. It is also to change the way Israel is treated in international forums and on this Hungary has led the charge many, many times and I thank you for it.”

Among EU countries, Hungary has consistently abstained rather than vote against Israel in the UN. It abstained in December in the UN General Assembly vote condemning the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem; in May when the UN Human Rights Commission voted to establish an investigative committee into the violence along the Gaza border; and in June when the general assembly condemned the Gaza violence and passed a resolution calling for protection of the Palestinian civilian population.

Hungary was also instrumental in thwarting an EU resolution in December that would have condemned the US for its decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem.

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