Hungarian, Polish, Czech, Slovakia leaders to meet Netanyahu in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has forged ties with central European countries viewed as more sympathetic to Israel's struggle.

 Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, and Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, and Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The leaders of the so-called Visegrad states – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, and Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini – will meet in Jerusalem on February 18-19 for a summit that will crank Israel’s relations with these countries up a notch and further dent the EU consensus on Mideast issues.
The Visegrad Group is considered the most right-wing of the countries making up the 28-state EU, and is one of the sub alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is developing in the EU to neutralize what he views as an anti-Israel bias from Brussels.
The other sub-alliances he has forged have been with Greece and Cyprus, with the Baltic countries – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – and with the Craiova Group of Balkan countries: Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia and Greece. Serbia, though not presently an EU member state, is a candidate country for admission.
Netanyahu attended that last summit of Visegrad prime ministers in Budapest in 2017.
Netanyahu holds regular summits with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, and last year attended summits both of the Craiova Group as well as the Baltic countries.
Before flying to Varna in November for a meeting of the Craiova Group – named after the Romanian city where the leaders of the four countries first met – Netanyahu spelled out this “sub-alliances” policy, saying he was meeting with the heads of those countries because he wants their help in changing “the hypocritical and hostile approach of the EU” toward Israel.
“This is a process that will take time, but I believe in setting a goal, and systematically setting out to achieve it – and I believe this is something we will achieve with time,” he said.
These efforts have borne fruit, as the countries that comprise these different groupings often stand up for Israel in various EU forums. For instance, in May, some of these countries prevented the EU from adopting a resolution that would have condemned the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
In general, over the last two years there have been far fewer EU statements on the Middle East than in the past. Difficulty in reaching consensus on Israel inside the EU was also on display in December when following a meeting on the Middle East in the UN Security Council, eight EU countries – which were either on the council at the time, would be in 2019, or had been in 2017 – put their name to a statement warning of failure if the long-awaited Trump Administration peace plan did not call for a two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital of both states.
That this statement, which was also signed by Poland, was put out by an ad hoc group of EU states immediately connected to the Security Council, and not in the name of the entire EU, was widely seen in Jerusalem as indicative of the current difficulty in reaching a consensus on Mideast masters inside the EU.
Hungarian Prime Minister Orban was in Israel last July. This will be the first visit here by Morawiecki since Poland’s controversial Holocaust law that would have imposed jail terms on people suggesting Poland was complicit in Nazi crimes, rocked the ties between the two countries last year.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid slammed Netanyahu for organizing the summit, saying it includes one leader – Morawiecki – who passed a law that “disgraced the memory of the victims of the Holocaust;” and another – Orban – who publicizes antisemitic content. This was a reference to Orban’s campaign against Hungarian-born financier George Soros.
“This is a loss of all national pride and causes us damage in the international arena,” Lapid wrote on Twitter. “The prime minister must overcome his craving for campaign photos and cancel [the summit].”
Netanyahu’s participation in the Visegrad summit in Budapest in 2017 is remembered for a “hot mic” moment in which he told his interlocutors during what he apparently thought was a closed meeting, but which was picked up by an open microphone, that the EU’s policies toward Israel were “crazy” and self-defeating.
“We have a peculiar situation: The European Union is the only association of countries in the world that conditions the relations with Israel – that produces technology in every area – on political conditions. The only ones,” he said. “We have a special relationship with China, and they don’t care about the political issues.”
“I think it is crazy. I think it is actually crazy,” Netanyahu continued. “I am not talking about my interests, Israel’s interests. I’m talking about Europe’s interests. Don’t undermine the one European Western country that defends European values and European interests, and prevents another mass migration to Europe. Stop attacking Israel; start supporting Israel.”
In a related diplomatic development, Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis arrived on Monday for a two-day visit. He is scheduled to meet Netanyahu on Tuesday afternoon. The two last met when Netanyahu attended a summit meeting of the leaders of the Baltic States in Vilnius in August.