Is Hungary's anti-Soros campaign antisemitic? Even Israelis can't decide

By
July 9, 2017 18:03

Posters distributed across Hungary attack the Jewish billionaire. Israeli envoy to Budapest says antisemitic images ‘sow hatred and fear.’

4 minute read.



George Soros poster

Hungarian government poster portraying financier George Soros and saying "Don't let George Soros have the last laugh" is seen at a tram stop in Budapest, Hungary. (photo credit:REUTERS/KRISZTINA THAN)

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau has backed the Hungarian government in its defense of its anti-George Soros campaign, which the Israeli embassy in Hungary has insinuated is antisemitic.

The posters depict the Hungarian-American Jewish billionaire laughing, alongside the words “Let’s not leave Soros the last laugh.” The government objects to Soros’s call for Hungary to allow migrants to enter the country.

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But while Israeli Ambassador to Hungary Yossi Amrani has called on the government to take down the posters, joining calls by Jewish leaders in the country, Lau and other Jewish leaders have countered claims that it’s antisemitic.

Amrani issued a letter on Saturday calling on those involved in the billboard campaign to reconsider the consequences. “No gain can come from such a campaign recalling the historic lesson. At the moment beyond political criticism of a certain person, the campaign not only evokes sad memories but also sows hatred and fear,” he wrote. “It’s our moral responsibility to raise a voice and call on the relevant authorities to exert their power and put an end to this cycle.” Such letters are always pre-approved by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

On Sunday, the ministry issued the following statement: “Israel deplores any expression of antisemitism in any country and stands with Jewish communities everywhere in confronting this hatred. This was the sole purpose of the statement issued by Israel’s ambassador to Hungary. In no way was the statement meant to delegitimize criticism of George Soros, who continuously undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organizations that defame the Jewish state and seek to deny it the right to defend itself.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff, János Lázár, told journalists on Thursday that, “The Hungarian government’s goal is to stop Soros’s migrant campaign, which is supporting the migration of illegal migrants into our country. The government is not criticizing George Soros for his Jewish origin, but for his supporting the growing number of migrants entering in uncontrolled crowds into Europe.”

When the issue was raised last week in a meeting between Orban and Lau and other Jewish leaders, the latter expressed understanding of Orban’s point of view.

Lau maintained that the focus should be on the content of the argument rather than on the individuals behind it. “Not every time you have a dispute with someone Jewish is it necessarily antisemitic,” his assistant Pinchas Tenenbaum told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. “He doesn’t see it as antisemitic because there was no mention of his Jewish heritage.”

In addition to Lau, the delegation who met with Orban included general director of the Rabbinical Center of Europe, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, and Hungarian Rabbis Baruch Oberlander and Shlomo Kovesh, the latter of whom is head of the Unified Hungarian Jewish Congregation. The meeting followed the inauguration of the opening of a new kosher slaughterhouse in the country, for which they thanked the prime minister for his “commitment to freedom of religion and to the eradication of antisemitism.”

“Though the campaign with the portrait of Mr. Soros is not necessarily very elegant, it has absolutely no relation with, and does not make any mention or even hint to his Jewish origin,” Margolin told the Post on Sunday. “When this claim came up a few times, the government has made it clear that it rejects any means of trying to connect this argument with people’s ancestry.”

Kovesh told local media that, “In many people’s eyes, Soros symbolizes the speculative figure of the immoral capitalism, and for that they dislike him. Calling every criticism which is turned against him antisemitism, is basically channeling all that hatred against the Jewish community. We have to be very careful when we label things with an antisemitic term, to make sure we are not making a self-fulfilling judgment.”

But Hungary’s Jewish umbrella group accused the government of provoking antisemitism with the campaign. András Heisler, president of the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Hungary, on Thursday demanded a stop to the government campaign.

The campaign has reportedly spurred several antisemitic incidents throughout the country. In Zalaegerszeg, the town’s Holocaust memorial was damaged and many of the posters defaced with antisemitic graffiti.

Heisler appeared Thursday on the opposition’s Club Radio to demand an end to the campaign, and in an open letter issued that day, he wrote: “The billboard campaign, while not openly antisemitic, can still very much unleash uncontrolled antisemitic and other feelings. This poisonous message hurts all of Hungary.”

Lázár added that Hungarian Jews “should not be afraid because they can count on the Hungarian government, which always will defend them.”

Hungarian Jews have called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cancel an official visit to Hungary scheduled for July 18, to protest remarks by Orban in praise of Hungary’s antisemitic leader during World War II, Miklós Horthy.

Late last month, Orban included Horthy, a Hitler ally, among those he called “exceptional statesmen” in Hungary for leading the country following the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. Horthy signed anti-Jewish laws in 1938 and 1939, as well as in 1920.

Last week, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also called on Netanyahu to cancel his visit to Budapest over Orban’s actions.

JTA contributed to this report.

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