The leader of Hungary’s Jewish community expressed disappointment in the Israeli leadership on issues that affect the Diaspora, but lauded the strong relations between the two countries, during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Budapest on Wednesday.
Andras Heisler, chairman of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Federations (Mazsihisz), addressed Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Netanyahu at an event held at the Dohány Street Synagogue in Budapest. He said the Hungarian government’s poster campaign against Hungarian- American billionaire George Soros was unacceptable, having triggered fear in the Jewish community, some of whose members had called on Netanyahu to cancel his visit to the country in protest.
The posters featured a picture of Soros laughing, alongside the words “Let’s not leave Soros the last laugh.” Posters were glued to the floors of trains, so that passengers would step on Soros’s face, and some were scrawled with antisemitic graffiti.
The campaign was based on the Hungarian government’s objection to Soros’s call for Hungary to allow migrants to enter the country.
Heisler decried the fact that in modern Hungary, it is still possible to “launch a total propaganda campaign, whose language and visual tools revived in our minds the bad memories of the past.
“One can argue about the intent of the campaign, but it became unacceptable for me for one thing: the Jews of Hungary started to live in fear.
“A responsible Jewish leader cannot keep silent about that,” Heisler said. “Neither can a responsible head of state.”
The Hungarian government had said it would end the campaign on July 15, before Netanyahu’s visit, but posters were still up around the country this week. The government said the firm that owns the billboards has yet to remove them.
After an initial condemnation of the campaign by the Israeli Embassy in Budapest, the Foreign Ministry released a clarification defending the Hungarian government’s right to criticize Soros and emphasizing its own opposition to his activity against Israeli policies.
Heisler said the statement was a “let-down for our community.”
He also protested legislation being advanced in Israel that would give the Chief Rabbinate a monopoly on conversion to Judaism in Israel.
“It is painful for our community when the religious recognition of the Diaspora is attempted to be narrowed in Israel,” Heisler said, pointing to the diversity of his community.
“I ask you respectfully, to foster higher respect for the Diaspora. Only a strong Diaspora is able to help Israel, and we, as Hungarian Jews, want to help.”
While many speak of a Hungarian Jewish renaissance, Heisler said, the Hungarian community is actually struggling “horrendously” against assimilation.
“We are convinced that it is in the basic interest of both Hungary and the State of Israel not to divide the Hungarian Jewry of the Diaspora, not to alienate it, and to help our communities in order to continue living and to pass on our ancestors’ Hungarian and Jewish traditions,” he said.
Neither Orban, who faces an election next year, nor Netanyahu reacted to the comments in their subsequent speeches.
“I am proud of the fact that today in our country there is a renaissance of Jewish life, even if I heard there were certain difficulties,” Orban said.
Netanyahu’s trip came less than a month after Orban praised Miklos Horthy, who led Hungary from 1920 to 1944, and was an ally of Nazi Germany.
But on Tuesday, Orban told Netanyahu that his country stood firmly against antisemitism after the “crime” of failing to protect its Jewish citizens during World War II, and opting instead to collaborate with the Nazis “[Orban] reassured me in unequivocal terms [over the antisemitism concerns],” Netanyahu said after meeting with the Hungarian prime minister.
The Anti-Defamation League welcomed Orban’s comments, saying they were “reassuring and help send a clear message that his government does not condone antisemitism.
“We hope the government of Hungary will continue to ensure the safety and security of the thriving Hungarian Jewish community by speaking out loudly and forcefully against antisemitism and Holocaust denial, and indeed any effort at historical revisionism when it comes to the deeds of the Nazis and their enablers across Europe,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.
Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, described Orban’s comment on the Holocaust as precedent setting.
“It was very important. I never heard this from Hungary,” he said, according to JTA.
Heisler said the community is “pleased to know that the Hungarian government wants to protect us, as Hungarian citizens, but the most effective defense we see is a Hungarian society without hatred. I ask the prime minister of Hungary to help Hungary become a society where the real power is the mutual respect of each other’s values.”
He did, however, commend both premiers on the strong relations between their countries, emphasizing that the “strongest bridge” between them was the connecting role of the Hungarian Jewish community. “Our past and future connects us, as our love of Hungary and of Israel connects us,” Heisler said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>