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.
During his tour of the museum, Orban “received a comprehensive explanation of the Holocaust, as well as specific references to the destruction of Hungarian Jewry,” the statement said. “This included details regarding the cooperation of Hungarian authorities with Nazi Germany under the leadership of Miklós Horthy and his successor.”
Orban was blasted last year for praising Horthy as an “exceptional statesman.” Horthy, a Hungarian admiral and statesman, served as Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary between World Wars I and II and throughout most of World War II until October 15, 1944. During 10 nightmarish months from March 1944 until liberation by the Red Army in January 1945, three quarters of the country’s 800,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis and their Hungarian collaborators. Last year, when Netanyahu met with Orban in Budapest, Orban said that Hungary erred and sinned when it cooperated with the Nazis and did not protect its Jews during World War II.
Hungary's anti-immigrant leader Orban wins a third term, April 9, 2018 (Reuters)
“I told the prime minister that we are aware of the fact that we have quite a difficult chapter of history behind us. And I wanted to make it very clear to him that the government of Hungary, in a previous period, committed a mistake, even committed a sin, when it did not protect the Jewish citizens of Hungary,” Orban said at the time.
Every Hungarian government, he added, has the “obligation to protect and defend all of its citizens, regardless of their birth and origins. During World War II this was something – a requirement – that Hungary did not live up to, both morally or in other ways. And this is a sin because we decided back then, instead of protecting the Jewish community, to collaborate with the Nazis.”
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.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, meanwhile, slammed Netanyahu for not chastising Orban for his comments last year about Horthy, saying that Netanyahu – in hosting Orban – was harming Israel’s “national pride.”
Referring to the controversial declaration on the Holocaust Netanyahu agreed to with Poland earlier this month, Lapid said that after “surrendering to the Polish government and signing a shameless agreement that rewrites history and cleanses the Poles form murdering Jews in the Holocaust, Netanyahu is now continuing the same trend.”
According to Lapid, “Israel was established so Jews can stand tall in the world and not be afraid or be obsequious before antisemites. It is a disgrace that Netanyahu is bowing down before an eastern European leader busy deteriorating the democratic values in his country.”
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>